My experiences today teaching the stopmotion filmmaking class for the Fine Arts Academy at our church in Edmond, Oklahoma, were very positive. (For the record, I AM taking vacation this week from work to do this.) Here are a few of my “lessons learned” so far.

  1. Simple is better. It was interesting to see groups of kids who tried to put five or ten different objects in their stopmotion scenes, and ended up creating something pretty disjoined and uninteresting. Many kids naturally want to create LOTS of action and excitement, but a compelling stopmotion story (or even an intelligible one) is often best told with just a few objects interacting and moving.
  2. Getting hands-on as soon as possible is key. We spent less than ten minutes in each hour class today (we had four different class rotations) looking at some example projects and seeing how to create a stopmotion movie with Frames software. This worked GREAT. The vast bulk of the time we spent was with the students working together in groups, hands on, rather than listening to me. (Or pretending to listen to me, or me pretending they were listening to me!)
  3. Time to play with tools and toys is essential! Today was essentially a “play day” when students got familiar with the hardware, software, and process of making a stopmotion movie. My goal for them was to create a 30 second short film, taking about 100 images. Most students ended up creating something about half that long, but that was OK. Our time schedule for this fine arts academy is less than optimal (IMHO) as I’d rather just have the same group of kids all day, all week long. Rather than just make a single long video during the week, I’m taking the approach that it will be better for them to create multiple short, partial films to gain experiences with the process and genre. This reminds me of working with math manipulatives with students when I taught 4th grade. It was always a good idea (some would say “essential”) to give the kids at least a little time to just play with the manipulatives. That is what we did today. It was both fun and productive, because everyone learned a lot. Tomorrow we’ll take it to the next level with some discussions about storyboarding and characters, and make more films!
  4. Two to three students per group for stopmotion is ideal. Because of the need to move different objects and characters around on the stopmotion stage, I think it really works best for three people to work in a team: One runs the camera, and two move objects around the stage. Groups of two worked also, but I think groups of three worked better. There were more creative ideas generally shared in the groups of three too, which was an important bonus.
  5. Some kids have apparently had few prior experiences being creative and spontaneous. Faced with the prospect of using either lincoln logs, finger puppets, small NASA toy astronauts and vehicles, or other objects to create stopmotion movies with today, several kids were absolutely befuddled where to begin! In one case, two students with this malady were in the same group, and I thought they were going to stare at their camera and lincoln logs the entire class period! I know we all have “different gifts” and being creative / spontaneous definitely comes to some people more naturally than others, but I also think it is very important to PRACTICE being creative, fun and sometimes off-the-wall in your thinking. Several of the kids in our classes had clearly NOT done something like this before. Hopefully this will be a good experience for them. It’s very important for people of all ages to have chances to use their imaginations creatively in making things together, in a supportive environment which supports divergent thinking.
  6. Webcams work as well as digital cameras with tripods for stopmotion. We had three different stopmotion capture stations setup today, with three different camera arrangements. One was a Macbook connected to a Sony DV camcorder, capturing “live” stopmotion frames into the Frames software. Another was a HP laptop running WindowsXP, using an inexpensive eyeball webcam also capturing live video into Frames software. The third station had an older Sony Mavica camera connected to a tripod, capturing still images. All of these camera and computer setups worked well. In the first hour, I neglected to have the students save their project on the HP/Windows computer, and for some reason when we plugged it into the projector and the screen resolution changed we couldn’t open their project. We lost it! So, the age old lesson applies here, Save first. Save often. Save so you don’t lose your work!
  7. Advance planning really pays off. The student groups who actually made decent stopmotion films this first day of “play” spent quite a bit of time up front discussing and planning what they wanted to do first. This advance planning REALLY showed. Those groups attempted to tell an actual story, rather than just moving random objects around in the screen, and we’ll be looking at those stopmotion stories tomorrow as examples of how we want to focus our work on storytelling with a limited number of characters.
  8. Small lincoln logs placed inside finger puppets help them stand up well. I purchased a bunch of finger puppets about six months ago that I thought I might use at some point for video podcasts (if I really wanted to lose credibility as someone who should be taken seriously) and these were fun to use today for stopmotion filmmaking. Not many of the finger puppets could stand up on their own, however, but with a lincoln log as a base they become pretty stable on their feet!

There are probably more “lessons learned” that I should be remembering now to share, but those are the main ones I can think of now. Here is a stopmotion movie my high school assistant and I made during our fourth classperiod. What fun this is! :-)

We shot the frames for this stopmotion movie in 30 minutes, and it took 30 additional minutes this evening to locate and add the music, along with intro and outro slides.

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  • http://yumyumcafe.blogspot.com lilalia

    Interesting post. It reflects exactly the same experiences I have had in schools with stop motion animation. The one component we introduced, storyboarding, really helped the kids to understand the need for a storyline.

  • http://onourmindsatscholastic.blogspot.com Jen Boggs

    I want to go to your church– so cool! LOVED the movie by you and Nic. Made me want to make one myself. Interesting what you said about practicing creativity and fun. I call it The Babysitter’s Dilemma: what can you do to have kids entertain themselves using only the materials in the house (including, but not limited to, paints, food and duct tape). It doesn’t get much simpler.

    Another thing that I thought of watching your movie was how much music can change the feeling. It might be fun to take the created videos and match it with different kinds of music to see how the story can change or be enhanced. But maybe you’ve already done that!

  • Lori Abrahams

    I have used Frames as well with students, storyboarding is very important. I love the idea of finger puppets held up with lincoln logs. Will bring that idea back to my teachers. We have used lego people, other toys, popcicle stick people, cardboard spaceships, soapsuds to show snow, and clay ( which is the hardest for my students, and most time consuming). Kids love adding the comic bubbles and voice overs as well as music. thanks for sharing your lessons learned.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    That is a great point about music giving a stopmotion sequence a completely different feel… I like the idea of putting different music to the same video, and then discussing how it is experienced differently!

    I uploaded ten of the videos we’ve created so far in our workshop to our workshop wiki. A few of these are also available on YouTube and I also included those links. Many of the kids were VERY excited and amazed at the prospect of work they created in our Fine Arts Camp being published to YouTube. I don’t think the thought had occurred to many that they could actually DO that. We showed off five of these videos today after lunch on the big screen in our sanctuary, and the kids were VERY excited to have their work celebrated and shared.

    What fun!

    Tomorrow we start working with clay and building our own claymation figures that we will animate on Thursday and Friday.

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