Animation

Student: “Teacher, my hand is in the shot!”
Me: “Okay, now you need to figure out a way to delete that photo.”
Student: “But I don’t know how!”
Me: “Well, spend ten minutes to see if you can figure it out. If you can’t after that, I will help you.”
Five minutes later
Student: “Teacher Jamie, I figured it out!”
Me: “Nice Job, Now teach me how you did it.”

I love these moments, these “ah-ha” moments! It’s the reason why people like me go into education. We love seeing realization and revelation during a school day; when the light bulb switches from off to on, when students problem solve, when the student becomes the teacher. This month, the 6th graders have been working on a project on animation and how music  conveys emotion and character in storytelling. Like the moment above, there have been many moments in which the student became the teacher. It’s been a long project, but I am excited and happy to share the final draft of what my students created, as well as their creative processes.

Step One: Composer Study
We spent two weeks studying composers of the past and present. We started with the obvious candidates: Mozart and Beethoven. We studied their lives, listened to their creations, and compared and contrasted their lives using visual aids. Once I felt that my students had a basic understanding of the lives and music of historical composers, I added a contemporary composer named Michael Giacchino. We analyzed what is arguably his most famous musical work in the film, “Up,” and also discussed how his music enhanced the storytelling of Carl and Ellie’s love story at the beginning of the film.

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Two students’ compositions recorded on a laminated treble clef sheet with white board makers.

Step Two: Becoming Composers
After we studied these three composers, we became composers of our own. We talked about how the composers could have created such beautiful works, concluding that they would simply play their instrument of choice and write down what they played. If they didn’t like what they wrote, then they would erase it and start again. We spent about two weeks working on compositions in this manner. In this time, the students would play their recorder, write down what they played, play what they had written, and then decide if they liked what they’d written. It was quite a frustrating process because my students were very picky. In the end, I was thrilled to see my students’ pride in what they had created.

Step Three: Crash Course in Animation
Here we put our compositions on pause to talk about the second component of the project – the visuals. I had previously decided that I wanted my students to learn stop motion animation using the iPad application iMotion. In order to introduce the technique, I shared a behind the scenes clip of the movie “Corpse Bride.” The clip discusses how the filmmakers created the sets and animated character actions by meticulously moving the dolls and taking pictures of every slight movement.

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A selection of some of the figures my students created which include: a girl, a small garden, a dolphin, a shark, a starfish, and a snake.

Step Four: Becoming the Animator
We then discussed how our class would be using my iPad to create their animation videos. We used donated playdough to create the figures that would later come to life. The students had three weeks to create and film their animation. Their only requirement was to include an event in their video. This could be someone drinking water, or an animal eating another animal, but the video had to include an action. At this point of the project, I realized I’d have to have some students start over because their hands were in the shots. This happened because they were trying to rush through the project quickly rather than go slowly to produce high quality work. The student also learned that they had to keep the iPad stationary to maintain continuity and avoid having to start over. Once they figured out the need for patience and attention to detail, the students produced great pieces of animation.

Step Five: Combining Audio and Visual
With their compositions recorded and their visuals complete, all that was left was to merge the two. In order to do this I introduced the students to the application iMovie on the iPad and walked them through the process of selecting their animation and selecting their audio from within the application. Once the videos were ready, their final task was to upload the video to Youtube.

A small group working with the iMovie to combine their visual with the audio!
A small group working with the iMovie to combine their visual with the audio.

Final Thoughts
I think it is important, as educators, to constantly be re-evaluating our strategies and the application of ideas in our lesson plans. This not only improves the lesson unit, but also makes us better teachers. There are three areas I would have done differently now that the unit is finished. First, I would have liked to have taken the time to talk about different types of animation, such as hand drawn animation. I would have shown examples of the Disney classics and then a flip book. From there, the students might create their own flip books. This may have laid a better foundation for animation in general, especially considering they would have studied more types of animation rather than just stop motion animation. Second, I wish I had added a length requirement for the videos. I knew the videos would have to be short considering the amount of time we had to complete the unit, but in some cases the videos were too short. Most of the final videos were four to five seconds. For the first time doing a project like this, I think that is fine, but in the future I think the minimum length of the video should be 15 seconds which would require them to both write 15 seconds of music and create 15 seconds of animation as well. Finally, I would have had the students storyboard their projects before even writing their scores and creating their characters from playdough. Storyboarding is a process animators use in order to outline what they will be creating. We did not do this in the unit, and as a result, some of my students were confused on what exactly to write or create. I think that if they knew beforehand what story they were going to animate and score, the overall process would be more structured. The freedom I provided to create was good, but at the beginning of the project my students felt overwhelmed because they did not know where to start. Storyboarding would have provided the necessary structure and guidance to both write compositions and animate.

Overall, I am incredibly proud of my students and their creative minds. This was the first time that they wrote their own pieces of music and the first time they worked with animation. The kids loved working with the technology, especially with the iMotion application. I had some students create multiple videos with different characters because they wanted to continue working with the filming technology. I am very proud of the result. Below is what I think is the best video of the class, created by Ale and Caly. I hope you enjoy it.

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