It’s been a long but productive four days of co-teaching a Claymation/Stopmotion Movie Camp for middle school students. When I think about it, they accomplished quite a bit. All 16 of the students worked on small claymation clips, learned three to four new software programs and then created (mostly through collaboration with others) a longer Claymation or Stopmotion movie.
This year, the group worked better and more creatively than past groups. It all has to do with dynamics, I suppose, but you could really get a sense of the exploration in the air. For the most part, I show them something and then get out of the way. My co-teacher, Tina, and I were tech support and allowed students to bounce ideas off us. But for the most part, they were off and running before we even said “go.”
Yesterday, we showcased the nine movies before a crowd of family and friends. I had each group or each student come up before the crowd and talk about their movie first. They did a great job and the audience was impressed by the work, as was I.
Two movies come to mind.
The first is by two boys who had a great vision, but not quite enough time to get it all done. They used wooden artistic figures more than clay, and their original story involved two little wooden guys discovering a larger wooden guy, who comes to life. As the large guy walks, his footprints would morph into claymation art. They ran out of time, but their work is still pretty cool animation:
The second was a group of three older boys. What I loved about this group was how creative and collaborative they were, and how they realized they could use a bunch of technology in their movie. So, they began with a scene from a Pivot video they made in which two stick figures push a button. Then, they used Bendaroos to create physical versions of their characters, and clay for the others. They also decided to use the digital voice component on Windows for the voice of the villain, shoving the microphone into a set of headphones. Pretty nifty.
One different activity I am bringing to Claymation Summer Camp this coming week (ack! So soon!) is to give students a lump of clay and use stopmotion to bring it to life. (I used to use my sons’ toys and create a short movie with those, but I want to get them working with clay quicker). The idea is to use frames to watch a piece of clay “become” something.
As usual, I decided to do the activity myself and this is what I came up with:
I’ve often heard of this little documentary around the making of Frog and Toad claymation/stopmotion movie but I often turn to a DVD extra with Wallace and Gromit to show students a look behind the scenes of stopmotion moviemaking. But I found this movie on Vimeo by John Matthews from the 1980s and it is pretty cool.
Next week, during my claymation summer camp, I may show this neat documentary and then show the WallaceGromit one to demonstrate just how far moviemaking has come in just a few years. (and now, kids can do it themselves for very little cost, on a smaller scale). It is pretty amazing how much some things have changed (the software and ease of filming) and how much some things have NOT changed (making the claymation characters act).
Most of my claymation groups rushed to complete their movie projects yesterday. I wish they didn’t feel so rushed but the school year ends in a few days and those days are jammed with activities. The task before the students: create a claymation movie around the theme of tolerance (related to our literature readings of Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry and Watsons Go to Birmingham).
A few of the groups really got it while some others … not so much. A few of the groups of boys got so into using clay that they lost track of their story idea, and so the movies were more slapstick comedy than development of story. Claymation can really engage students, but it can be difficult to keep some of them on track. Plus, claymation requires the art of patience, which is difficult at the end of the school year to maintain.
But here are a few of the movies to share out (maybe more next week):
We have ambitions. And focus (for the most part). But whether my class can complete stopmotion claymation movies before our school year ends in three weeks is uncertain. We’re going to try. We’re going to try. And boy, they are very engaged for a June project.
Since my literature groups just read two books that center on racism and tolerance (The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry), I decided it might be interesting to have them create short claymation movies on the theme of “tolerance.” And so, we have stories developing, and clay characters being created, and next week: let’s get filming!
One group of boys who have been loving the study of Sparta in Social Studies are working on a story with Spartans and how a group of hero-warriors come to understanding the differences of others. One particular student is very adept at clay and it is pretty amazing to watch him in action (his mother has been giving him clay to keep him busy since he was a little dude).
(These pics are also shared over at Photo Fridays)
I’m excited but stressed about finding enough time for them to create a movie they will be proud of before the school year ends. I’ll need to keep moving them along, pushing them to focus, and hoping the technology works as it should.
Today marks the end of the four day Claymation Camp and I have to say, this has been a great group of kids to work with. Most of them have been very engaged in their movies. Yesterday, they made great progress, although only one of the movies has actually been completed. This morning, we put the pedal to the metal, so to speak, and finish up the rest before parents arrive at 11:45 am for a premiere showing of the work these past four days.
Many of you know I am loving Animoto as a way to showcase still images.
Yesterday, at our claymation camp, we started to get down to work on coming up with ideas for the movies (built around the concept of fractured fairy tales) and the students started to make their clay characters. Today will be a jam-packed day of writings scripts and filming scenes. Tomorrow is the last day (already!) and we have invited family to come in and see what we have created.
I was messing around with claymation today on a laptop that we will be using for next week’s claymation camp (and have some glitches that have me stressed out) and I created this short little claymation movie, using clay and legos and other assorted toys.
But I was interested in using the new YouTube Annotation feature, which allows you to add to text to videos as overlays. It seems perfect for claymation movies where you don’t necessarily want to add an audio narration, and I didn’t. I created a quick soundtrack with my Super Dooper Music Looper software, uploaded and added the words right there in YouTube.
The whole process took me about an hour, but I have done enough stop-motion to get into the swing of things pretty quick. I like this little demented movie, though. The set looks cool, and the head — well, the head without a body is a horror story classic, don’t you think?
This is the last part of a series of posts I am doing around claymation animation in the classroom and I wanted to talk about what you can do once the movies are completed. Although students enjoy making movies just for the sake of making movies, I do try to instill the values of an authentic audience in their minds. This way, they understand that someone else will be watching their work. The idea of audience gives focus.
Once the movies are done, we showcase them in a variety of ways:
On our classroom weblog, all of the claymation movies get their own post, allowing the rest of our sixth graders to see what my homeroom students have done and also giving access to the movies to families and friends from any location in the world;
We burn the movies onto a DVD and every student received their own copy of the DVD in the final days before the end of the year. We spent an afternoon, watching the shows and laughing at the funny things you can do with clay;
We show the DVD over our school’s internal television network for all classrooms. This is done a few times during the day, so that teachers have different opportunities to show it to students. We also provide a DVD to any teacher who wants it;
We create a webpage with all of the movies on it, to show the work as one collective unit.
And just to end on a nice collective note, here is an Animoto movie of images from the claymation projects:
This is the second in a series of posts about my claymation project this year. The first post was just a basic overview of the project. This post will deal a bit more with some of the resources that I used and how I went about launching claymation with my sixth graders.
First of all, this is the fourth year that I have been doing claymation. The first two years, I used simple digital still images and MovieMaker to add narration and titles. Last year, following the lead of my friend Tonya W., I shifted to using a freeware program called Stop-Motion Animator. This software uses a webcam to capture “frames” as an .AVI video file. This shift to Stop-Motion Animator allowed my students to create moving movies, and not just still images. This was a big leap forward for us, although now it required more patience from my students and increased video editing skills.
On the technical side, too, I found that I had to download a video Codec (called Xvid) in order for MovieMaker to recognize the AVI files created by the stop-motion software. Every move forward seems to require some kind of trouble-shooting, but that is the way of the world. In MovieMaker, students can add titles, transitions, audio narration, music and some features of movie production. The most valuable? The ability to slow down a video segment (through MM’s video effects) because all too often, students have not shot enough frames to match their narration. This gives them a little leeway.
For the writing element, we often focus on some aspect of writing. One year, it was how setting informs a story. Another year, it was integrating science by having students invent a new creature and how the habitat that it lives in affects its development. This year, I decided to focus on Climate Change.
First, we used a book called “The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming” by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. It’s a kid-friendly look at climate change. I used some of my collected points via Scholastic Books to purchase about seven of the books for the classroom. We also did some research around global warming, just to ground the students on the issue.
Next, students created clay figures and we use the cheap clay you can get at any department store. The clay is a bit messy but it is cheap and they can use as much as they need. I also provide a box of craft supplies, such as googlie eyes, sticks, etc. This creation of clay figures made the project character driven and I have often had the story done first before the characters but this year, I did the reverse. The result? I think it helped students when considering a story idea to have a character they could put into action. They could tangibly hold it in their hands as they were writing.
From there, they used both a storyboard and a concept mapping sheet to plan out their stories. The storyboard allows them to think about the “scenes” in the movie and the concept map provides a structure for a framework of story sequencing — from start to middle to end.
Normally, we then move into writing the script, but this year (as I mentioned in my last post), I decided to see how things would fare if we shifted into filming and letting them use the storyboard and concept map to create dialogue and narration (a mixed bag, I must say).
The filming takes time — I would guess this part of the project took some groups three 45-minute sessions to seven 45-minute sessions. My job is to encourage and push them along, otherwise, some groups would never get the filming completed. Once they have the raw footage, we move the video into MovieMaker, edit out fingers and hands that crop into the footage and begin to piece things together with narration. Getting good audio levels from a group of students is difficult, as microphone placement is crucial. But some kids like to pull the microphone almost into their mouth and others try to keep as far . As they are adding titles and credits, I remind them that credits should probably not be longer than the movies (which run anywhere from one minute to three minutes long, total).
This is a key point for me: I show the students how to edit, but I don’t edit for them (unless there is some emergency). I have to resist the urge to take over their project. I really want the movies to be theirs and theirs alone, and sometimes that means I wince a bit (to be honest) at the final product, and think about how I could swooped in and done something differently. But, that moment passes, and I realize that they have complete ownership over their movies.
Finally, we “create” the movies as video files and share them out. I’ll write more about publishing the movies in my next segment.