Expo: Animation Education

You couldn't miss it unless you really wanted to. As attendees descended the long escalator down to the Moscone Center's North Hall for Macworld 2010, a series of colorful and melodious videos connected with their brain waves.

The short animated movies--none more than about two minutes long--were produced by school kids using MacBooks, cameras, and assorted software, including iLife and Boinx Software packages.

The films on display were made in 2008 in conjunction with a San Francisco Bay Area educational summer day camp that features hands-on arts and science, animation, and recreation programs. The camp, Edventure More (Edmo for short) put together teams of kids at various age and grade levels to produce the five artistic shorts chosen for mass viewing.

"What a tremendous opportunity for our campers," said Ed Caballero, Edmo co-founder. "Our kids were thrilled, and their parents were beaming with pride to see their childs' creations playing on screens throughout an internationally renowned show. This is what Camp Edmo is all about, providing moments of joy, creating memories, and building confidence."

Since the first camp was launched in 2004, the non-profit Camp Edmo has partnered with local museums to provide enrichment programs during school vacations. Activities are designed by the Exploratorium, California Academy of Sciences, Museum of Children's Art (MOCHA), and Zeum, a San Francisco-based non-profit multimedia arts and technology museum. Professional animator instructors provided the specifically designed animation curriculum that resulted in the videos.

The camps are offered at nine Bay Area locations: Seven locations (Edventure More) cater to the K-5 level and two locations (Edventure Tech) offer programs for older children from sixth through ninth grades. Camp Edmo and Camp Edtech campers produce more than 200 videos a year. The camp directors submitted 10 films for Macworld showcase consideration, and the five below were chosen by Paul Kent, Macworld 2010's vice president and general manager. Each film is also posted on YouTube.

The animation videos shown at Macworld 2010 were truly a kid-oriented effort. Kids wrote the scripts, drew the storyboards, painted the sets, and built the characters. Campers learned a variety of stop-motion animation techniques, including how to film clay animation, how to bring toys to life, and how to create an animated comic strip. They filmed the scenes and recorded the sound. Their basic toolkit included MacBooks, video and still cameras, Apple's iMovie and GarageBand programs, and Boinx Software's iStopMotion. The younger kids got a little more direction than the older ones, of course. For example, it's no accident that a couple of these videos feature themes about food.

In case you missed the videos, here they are with a bit of commentary from some of their authors. Several of the kids showed up at North Hall on Friday afternoon, and I got a chance to get their quick impressions of the experience.

Stone Plate

By Russell and Adrian, 4th grade, Camp Edmo

The high concept is fairly straightforward, according to 10-year-old Russell Root: There's M&Ms, candy bars with and without umbrellas, and hungry M&M bunnies. The narrative more or less speaks for itself, and like many filmmakers, Russell (who plays Onka in the movie), might prefer that folks just watch the film rather than go into a lot of details.

But he did offer the following observation about the experience: "We learned to share everything with everybody and not to trust M&M bunnies."

Ship Wreck

By Coleman and Jack, 4th and 5th grades, Camp Edmo

Jack Root, 10, (twin brother of Russell, of Stone Plate fame above) was also on hand and expressed some thoughts about his film. "Me and a friend wanted to make a movie about...a giant squid. We liked making short people, mineatures, the little clay people." Plus, "I wanted to make the hat because I thought it would look good." In the movie, disaster strikes. The little clay people were confronted by the giant squid and that results in the wrecking of the ship.

The kids also constructed the toy ship and the scenery of the sea. According to Jack, there was a lot to learn from this experience on multiple levels. "The story has a moral: to be resourceful. They had to use all the trees on the island to make a new ship. And then the squid wants to destroy the ship again."

Aside from the moral and all the rest, says Jack, "It was just fun."

Ravenous Worm

By Dean, Min, and Johnny, 5th and 6th grades, Camp Edmo

As John Jeremiah Sobel, age 10, explained it, the film assignment was that the movie needed to have a food theme. Thus, emerged the concept of the Ravenous Worm. "The monster invading the movie is the theme," he said. The team built the models out of clay and set the whole thing to music. "We wanted to have action thrills; the music had to be fast-paced," he said, so he went to iTunes to find the music.

In reflecting on the experience, Johnny noted, "We learned how to structure an animation project. There were a lot more things than I thought, like the sound, and fixing things. There was a lot of detail."

A year and a half later, Johnny feels that the project was rewarding, not the least of which is because of all the buzz it's still getting. "It makes me feel good. We had fun. This is the first time we did anything like this, and people are still talking about it."

Indiana Jones and the Water Jewel

By Ruby and Jessica, 7th grade, Camp Edtech

Jessica Steinberg, 13, had some background in animation by the time she embarked on the Indiana Jones piece. She had already worked in 3D, and was now ready to tackle 2D. Jessica and her teammates discussed their ideas for the video and joined together to make the characters and the set. For the 2D animation they shot the images, transferred everything to the computer, and did the music in GarageBand.

Not surprisingly, the challenges were both technical and visionary. "The hardest part about editing is getting people to agree on everything, maybe even harder than some of the technical issues," she said. "The hardest thing in producing the animation was matching the sound effects, linking up the different processes, and making it look realistic and life-like. iStopMotion (onionskin) was helpful with that."

With some of her perspective in doing a number of these videos, Jessica noted the progression of her skills. "Every year I learn how to make things better. The first year the animation was choppy, the second year the sound was off, and this movie could have used more sound effects," she said.

Eraser Chaser

By Adam, Eli, and Emile, 7th and 9th grades, Camp Edtech

The gang from Eraser Chaser wasn't around on Friday, but managed to share a couple of thoughts via email. "The three of us were just sitting around the table throwing out ideas and one of them clicked, so we developed that," stated 14-year-old Eli Goodman. According to his partners, Emile and Adam Theriault-Shay, 13-year-old twin brothers, "We had decided to use a stick figure because it was easy to make it move and perform actions. We thought that the stick figure looked so much like a simple drawing, that it would be funny to have an eraser trying to erase it." They also found that a universal rule applied to making video animations. "Make sure you know what you're doing before you do it...Before, we didn't know how to make one of those stop-motion animations. By going to Edtech we learned how to add sound effects and how to edit the frames."

Camp Edmo has more events planned for the near future, including a Youth Film Festival scheduled for April 24 at the San Francisco Exploratorium's McBean Theater, featuring new films from its campers. A Pixar presenter will be on hand for the show.

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