Teaching Animation (1)

How to teach something which is almost unteachable? Animation is mostly based – as a lot of other things, too – on experiencing it and its priciples. I could read and being told about it. But it would best if I just try to expand my sense for movement and timing by simply practising animation itself and by reflecting what I did. Now I that I teach animation in two school projects, I instantly realize which explanation works and which doesn’t.

I have two groups of students. The younger are about ten to twelve years old and the older kids are around the age of sixteen. At first, they developed a lot of paper stripes for my zoetrope the other weeks. Those worked great and the kids learned a lot by drawing them. My assumption seemed to be valid that children who work manually and encouraged will create amazing things… A lot of art teachers don’t seem to know this… On the one hand I was surprised by how much they liked it, and on the other hand it just confirmed my guess.

After that time travel to the 19th century they wanted to move back to present time and to animate with plasticine. This hadn’t gone well at first because especially the younger ones didn’t understand that they had to move the puppets in little, sometimes even tiny steps related to what they want to achieve.

So I tried not to explain again but to design an exercise which helps them to understand the idea behind animation. I did this piece of work with both groups. So see the videos below:

25 Steps To Go With A Little Piece Of Plasticine

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The video above shows the exercise done by the younger children, the video below shows what my older students did.

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Each of them was given a piece of white plasticine of the size of a walnut. And they got 25 steps each to change the plasticine’s shape, too. The kids normally animate on twos so it would make 2 seconds of animation per student. I wanted them to find out what they are and are not able to do within two seconds and few options.

Almost everybody was surprised by their results. Some of them found it very hard to extend the reshaping to the 25 different pictures and some of them thought it’s way too little time to show what they’d planned. Especially one very impatient boy at the age of ten or eleven did a great job: when we started animating he eventually became so very calm and concentrated. It was lovely to watch. I found it most surprising that both groups animated similar shapes.

14. October 2009 by Jessica
Categories: Stuff | Tags: | 3 comments

Comments (3)

  1. This was exactly my experience with younger children. I think they visualise the movement in their minds, and then move the puppet (or cutout, or whatever) from the original position into the one they have visualised – with none of the in between steps.

    Your idea to give them an exercise that reveals the necessary steps is brilliant. Putting constraints on students is a very good way of steering them towards the lessons you’d like them to learn. I am exploring this with my journalism students too, and it seems to be working (at least some of the time!)

  2. Interesting… the second animation is somehow more ‘complex’ – there is much more going on in a shorter amount of time than in the first video andthe animation in the second video ends suddenly in a whole sculpt – everything speeds up with the time going by, the ideas develop more rapidly but both end somewhere in the middle with rolling the plasticene out to a flat piece in the middle.
    And congratulations: you are teaching TWO classes in animation – where I woulnd’t hardly believe that someone would be able to gather one class. Very impressive. All the best for one more class ;)

  3. Simon, Michael,
    thanks for your comments and sharing your ideas.

    But, honestly, two classes are enough at the moment. It takes a lot of energy to prepare the courses, to work with the kids and to do all the office stuff you won’t see. And due my other work at a local art museum I lack a bit of time to work on my own projects and they only progress slowly. But: they progress! :)

    I love working with the kids