Monday, November 16, 2015

5th Grade Digital Art Project: Intro to Animation

Just when you thought Picasso's Le Coq couldn't get any scarier. . . 
It’s no secret that I love to teach animation. I’ve written about animation here, here, and here. I also authored a wiki about how to teach a fullunit on animation from building thaumatropes, to flipbooks, to writing andshooting a full Claymation.  I’m wouldn’t say I’m an expert animator (at most you could call me an enthusiast), but I do know a lot about how to introduce animation to students and how to break down animation into fundamentals.

I’m also a bit of a purist. While I know there are online programs, shareware software, for-purchase software, and (tons) of mobile device apps for animation, I prefer to teach animation without the use of animation-based applications.  Now, there is nothing wrong with using these applications in the classroom. In a lot of instances, they offer a wonderful means of adding a final twist to an already existing project, and/or they offer students a very real and relevant means of interacting with digital media. My reason for NOT using animation applications when teaching animation is that these applications do all of the actual animation work for the students. When using an animation application, users are not reliant upon pre-planning and organization when it comes to their final outputs; the application does this work. Additionally, animation applications are designed to expedite the process of animation; students cannot see and/or visually perceive how their images animate. Finally, animation applications do not give students the opportunity to make the mistakes that are so meaningful to learning.

In the past, I’ve had to teach animation in a very “guerilla” style: I’ve squeezed in as much animation as possible in a small time frame with varying degrees of reliable technology.  Obviously, this is not an ideal situation; I couldn’t teach animation in the more meaningful sequential manner and had to constantly re-teach skills due to time lapses between units and seeing students. This year, my elementary students see me for 45 minutes a week for Studio Art and 45 minutes every other week for Digital Art (the first week I see them for 45 minutes, the second week I see them for 90 minutes).  For real.  I know. I’m teaching in the Promised Land (sorrynotsorry humblebrag etc).

I’m in the very enviable situation wherein I can slowly teach animation in way that is meaningful to my students and allows them time to process all of this information. The plan is for my 5TH grade students to continuously learn about and create small animation projects. Eventually, they will work in groups of two to create an original, one minute Claymation.  I thought you might like to go along on their journey. I’ll share our projects and process as we go about this endeavor.

We began by creating a simple, 2-frame animation using Picasso’s Le Coq. I picked this artwork because we are studying Picasso and Le Coq  in Studio Art and this allows me to mirror existing knowledge.

#1 I talk to my students about the plan to eventually make a Claymation. We discuss how we would feel if –when in kindergarten- our teachers asked us to write an essay. I then compare that to being tasked with making a full animation before understanding the basics. I think it is important my students understand WHY we are starting small. I tell them, “If we just jumped straight to making a Claymation, you would get very frustrated and it would stop being fun. You would only learn to dislike animation and no one wants that!”

#2 We talk about and define “Claymation” and “frame.”  I cite TheNightmare Before Christmas and Frankenweenie  for the purposes of common ground and relevancy. We discuss –very briefly- how these movies are made and how each “picture” taken is a “frame” and that most animations rely on fifteen frames per second (lots of wide eyes there!).

#3 I show them a student Claymation movie. I’m partial to this one (also embedded below) because it’s cute and you can see how many frames the students used because of the old-school time-stamp. Usually, by this point, the students are totally on board with taking the whole animation thing slow.

#4 I reiterate the full Claymation project will be later and that we are going to start today by making a 2 frame animation. We define gif and I show them various gif animations.  It’s fun.

All three of these awesome animations are made by Belgrade designer Valentin. More of his work is here:

#5 I demonstrate how to make a gif animation using Pixlr and GifMaker. I use these programs together (sometimes called “app-smashing”) instead of Photoshop because I want my students to understand that they can make animations on their own and many can’t afford / don’t have Photoshop; it’s an equity thing. I’m partial to pre-recording screencasts for teaching animation because it means the students can watch and re-watch the directions. You can view my screencast (made using Screencast-O-Matic) for this project below:

#6 My students are put to work. Before I help them, I expect them to be able to show me where they are in the screencast, and where they are at in the written directions (this teaches them to rely on actually looking at the directions and encourage efficacy). You can view a copy of my written directions here - also embedded below. 

Here are some of my favorite animated Le Coq’s (made by 5th graders in about 20 minutes):

(P.S. We totally went over –and over- how to say that correctly and appropriately. Lol!)

1 comment:

  1. Love your student's GIFs! I did a GIF unit last year and the kids loved it. I understand what you mean about using software that is available to all students. Have you checked out Inkscape yet? It is a free and open source program ( I teach Digital Art at the elementary level and would love to see more of your digital projects! :) -Molly