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LISA SMITH
Finalist

6-8 | The Arts | Video Production

Station UNC-TV in North Carolina

My Classroom Innovation

Teaching “Movie Making” is much like making a movie. Each classroom hour necessitates pre- production, production and post-production, because the process is so involved, both conceptually and in terms of equipment and supplies. I teach stop motion animation to middle school students, in which the blending of creativity and technology invites student innovation in every project.

Stop motion animation excites middles school students, and at the same time stretches their imaginative and cognitive minds. The movies they create bring life to their thoughts and emotions and express their imaginations. Students are also encouraged to venture beyond their comfort zones, often coming to class more confident in either art or technology. With enthusiasm to create in this exciting medium, however, I see these comfort zones expand, as students begin to conquer the entire process. The result is often an exuberant new film artist, enthralled with seeing their ideas on the big screen.

The PBS video “Off Book: The Art of Animation and Motion Graphics” provides an excellence introduction to the history of animation, as well as creative inspiration by suggesting the “magic” produced with stop motion and access to the artist’s imagination. I start every series of classes with an introduction to the concept of persistence of vision, followed by an explanation of frame by frame film technology. This PBS video then provides an informative link to our first projects, flip books and thaumatropes.

Stop motion animation is a medium of innovation. Every movie is a new idea. Each project is altered in its execution, and challenges the mind to think ahead to the results of one’s actions. The process is nearly always quite inventive, challenging and rewarding. Teaching animation to middle school students, and their excitement with its profound ability to touch audiences, provides them an accessible and influential tool.

How Students were Engaged

One of the best benefits of teaching stop motion animation to students is their enthusiasm to learn the process. Movie making has primarily, until recently, been a medium for those artists with access to large scale production facilities and financial resources. Yet with today’s technology, most students have easy access to the basic tools of movie production – a digital camera and a computer – as well as a platform, via the internet, to share their movies far and wide.

I teach animation using basic and accessible tools, a digital camera and Windows Movie Maker editing software, which comes installed on most PC computers and is available as a free download from Microsoft. I use this software so it remains accessible to all students once they are animating on their own. Every series of classes I teach concludes with a showing of student work on the big screen, which is very exciting for animators. Students conclude the classes with a much better understanding of the movie magic created through persistence of vision, as they see their own still images come to life through animation. The completion of an animated movie shows their understanding of the process.

Students take with them a greater knowledge of both the movie making process and the animation process, as well as the knowledge and motivation to continue making their own animated movies. I often have students return to take my movie making class again, and many students continue to animate at home once their classroom experience is complete.

PBS Program/Content Used

Off Book: The Art of Animation and Motion Graphics