Thursday, March 4, 2010

ReadyANIMATOR demo via Skype

I just finished doing a demo of ReadyANIMATOR Compact via Skype. The demonstration was for a workshop at the educational technology conference called NCTIES that's held in Raleigh, NC every March. The session was led by Julie LaChance, Technology Facilitator at Northwest Cabarrus High School. She showed curriculum-based clay animated movies, then demonstrated her school's ReadyANIMATOR Deluxe.
After that I joined in via Skype and showed how to use ReadyANIMATOR Compact.
Part of the session included an explanation of cameras that are well suited to stop-motion animation. ReadyANIMATOR Deluxe is primarily designed for DV Camcorders, while webcams work best with ReadyANIMATOR Compact. Some of the new HD webcams work very well for stop-motion animation.

NCTIES provided a grant to Julie's school that made purchase of their ReadyANIMATOR possible.

If your organization would like a Skype presentation about how to create curriculum-based animation in your school or library, please contact me. My contact info is at:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

ReadyANIMATOR and Stop Motion Pro at 'Mary and Max' premiere

I recently brought ReadyANIMATOR to the Charlotte premiere of 'Mary and Max', the clay animated feature film by the Academy Award winning makers of Harvie Krumpet. The showing was a program of The Light Factory, one of only four non-profits in the U.S. devoted to the art of both photography and film.

In the lobby before the screening, I set up a ReadyANIMATOR and a laptop equipped with the animation capture software used to create 'Mary and Max'. The software is called Stop Motion Pro; it lets you capture frame-by-frame animation.

Within seconds of sitting down with ReadyANIMATOR and Stop Motion Pro, children who had never animated were creating their own stop-motion shorts. When I teach animation in schools, I find it's best to let children dive in and animate right away to get the idea of what can be done with animation. Later I have them do the writing and fabricating needed to make a curriculum-based animation. Many of the animation classes that I teach in schools are under the auspices of The Light Factory; the organization also has offered clay animation classes that I teach at their summer camp.

The students who were using ReadyANIMATOR didn't attend 'Mary and Max'. And for good reason. This 'clayography' is not suited for young children because of some racy cartoon occurrences. But adults who like films that break the Hollywood mold will love it. This is a quirky and often hilarious movie that gets us inside the heads of two unique individuals. 'Rotten Tomatoes' critics gave it a 90% rating. I can't wait to see their next movie, but it may be awhile. I heard this one took five years to create.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Animation Capture Software

To create handmade animation, you need software to capture the individual images that will make up your animation. This is called animation capture software. It lets you grab each frame of animation and then it strings the frames together to form animation. Any animation capture software will work with our ReadyANIMATOR stop-motion animation equipment. Here are the major brands. All are reasonably priced.
Each of these has a trial version. It's a good idea to test the software with your camera and computer before you buy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mr. Fox Digs Deep

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop-motion delight that will appeal to students and teachers alike. Students who see this movie might be inspired to try stop-motion animation themselves. They will be intrigued by the handmade special effects, such as cotton smoke and plastic water. Teachers will relate to a recurring theme of the film: efforts to become civilized versus the wildness in us all.

English teachers can use this film as an example of witty writing and characters that are three dimensional (in more ways than one). The title character, voiced by George Clooney, and his wife, voiced by Meryl Streep, have a relationship richer than seen in most Hollywood films. Mr. Fox has buckets of confidence. Mrs. Fox has a temperament reflected in her off-beat hobby: painting landscapes dominated by natural disasters. Their  divergent personalities result in marital bumps and clashing parenting styles.

The stop-motion animation is ambitious and energetic without becoming an unwatchable frenzy as some animated features can. The detail in the backgrounds is too much to absorb in one viewing; this film should be seen twice just to pick up the clever signage, book titles and product names scattered throughout.

Watch for visual puns like the appearance of a model train within this movie that's brought to life via model-making. And listen for songs performed by Burl Ives, a tip-of-the-hat to the classic Rudolph stop-motion Christmas special. Music teachers will love the entire soundtrack which veers from 'The Ballad of Davy Crockett" to the Rolling Stones.

Students can see classic stop-motion techniques put to good use throughout the movie. To make characters appear larger as they approach the camera, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" employs forced perspective. Hear director Wes Anderson describe the technique.

And here's a terrific interview between Terry Gross and the director.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

'Atmospheric Animation' meets TV weatherman

Larry Sprinkle, well-known TV weatherman for Charlotte's Channel 36 News, visited an animation class I'm helping to teach at Idlewild Elementary yesterday. The 5th grade students in this elective class are creating clay animation movies on the topic of weather. (Weather is part of the core science curriculum for 5th graders in North Carolina.) During his visit Mr. Sprinkle (his real name!) told the students how lightning is created. He also graciously posed for photos that the students will incorporate into their animation, and recorded audio for the movies as well.

Idlewild art teacher Rebecca Kelly is leading the class, which was arranged by Gloria Jones and funded by a grant from the Arts & Science Council, which supports the cultural community in Charlotte.
In a few weeks I hope to have more information about the class and a link to the animation the students create.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stop motion class underway at local high school

I'm teaching a stop motion animation class at Hawthorne High School for the next few weeks. The class is made possible by The Light Factory and Charlotte City Center Partners. The finished movies will premiere at First Night, Charlotte's annual uptown New Year's eve celebration.
The students are using their drawing talents to create characters and sets with the theme of 'My Life in Charlotte'. One movie follows two students as they board a bus for the trip home after school.  The characters are drawn on paper and the movies use a combination of paper-cut-out animation and collage animation.
Photos of the class, taken by Charles Thomas of The Light Factory.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Teaching Animation in Schools

Teaching students how to create animated movies is a great way to help them learn. Here’s why:
  • It’s a fun way to learn topics from the standard course of study
  • It promotes teamwork
  • Students work with their hands and solve problems as they create hand-drawn animation, paper cut-out animation, clay animation or stop motion animation
  • It uses several learning styles: visual, verbal, kinesthetic
  • It engages students who struggle with writing papers or oral presentations
Hardware needed to create animation:
  • A camera that can be connected directly to a computer. Two types work best:
    • Webcam, which includes a USB cable that plugs into a computer
    • Mini-DV Camcorder, which plugs into a computer using an IEEE-1394 (Firewire)  cable
    • A computer (PC or Mac, preferably with DVD burner)
    • Support equipment: tripod, lights, a means of supporting backgrounds

    Software needed:
    • Editing software is helpful, such as Windows MovieMaker for PC or iMovie for Mac
    More details about all of the above in future blogs.