I teach art at Castle School, an all-age special school in Walsall for pupils with moderate learning difficulties. We try to offer our pupils new artistic opportunities on a regular basis so they can add new skills to their repertoire.
Television, computers, films and cartoons play a large part in the lives of the pupils at our school. Our children are often entertained by repeated viewing of a favourite film or cartoon character. This repetitive element offers predictability and comfort. It is guaranteed fun! They may look forward to the same film or programme every evening when they get home from school. They can relax at the end of a day that may have held too many surprises and uncertainties. Too many times on their way to or from school or during the school day they are unsure of what will happen next it s all so unpredictable! Once home the remote or the mouse can give them control over what they see. It is a part of their world that they can take control of. Helped by the predictable, safe nature of what s on their screens, they can slip into a comfort zone.
We normally teach art through study of the work of artists and interaction with the work of artists in galleries. We decided to study animation and movie making because we felt it was relevant to our pupils. Our study of movie making and animation is therefore learning about life, learning about how their prime method of entertainment looks and how it is made. This study may encompass the physical making and construction of movies and animations using digital techniques or the study of the design elements: scripting, story boarding, set construction, location, choice of shots etc.
The work using animation aims to extend understanding of digital technologies. It tries to inform pupils about the way cartoons are made and get them to take a fresh look at the media using an insight into how they are created. It also aims to offer pupils an opportunity for creative engagement offered by the new technologies that are increasingly part of their lives. We have found that this approach engages and involves children of all ages and abilities. Pupils find it enjoyable and exciting to be introduced to new types of digital media that are increasingly becoming a more prevalent in their homes. Often at home our pupils find there is increased use of digital photography for holiday photos and of access to the internet, which pupils use to find out more about their favourite cartoon characters, TV networks, or celebrities.
Teachers of art at Castle School believe that these technologies offer another creative tool alongside the traditional paint, pencils and pastels etc. We are constantly looking for new ways to help our pupils access the curriculum and believe that pupils bring an enthusiasm and personal insight to digital studies. With recent digital advances and price reductions the effects that may have once been seen in James Bond or science fiction films costing millions of pounds can now be simulated digitally in the classroom for a few hundred pounds on a computer. Cartoon technology, which may once have involved high price cameras filming millions of drawings by huge teams of artists to make a cartoon film, can offer pupils the opportunities to produce a short animation of a professional standard in a lesson at a computer and, if unfinished, can save it for the next lesson. Computer technology saves time and reduces the boring, repetitive nature that animation used to be known for.
At Castle School, in our use of computers in art lessons we attempt to put the emphasis predominantly on the development of visual ideas rather than learning about computers and computer technology. We use computers as a tool with creative potential to teach art and to encourage responses in our pupils. It offers pupils the chance to see their drawings come to life and develop into a mini-movie story. For this reason, I try to discourage the use of stamps or clip-art in any project other than poster design. Often the use of computers takes the pupil s focus off the act of drawing and puts any reticence they may display onto the use of a new medium or the plot of the story, thereby bypassing or overcoming the I can t draw comments.
We achieved Creative Partnership status and this encouraged and enabled us to bring arts workers in to our school. I saw this as the opportunity to provide the skills and expertise needed to introduce digital animation. Stuart Mills from Creation Digital at Wolverhampton Art Gallery became one of our creative partners and helped us set up and deliver our movie making and animation work. After working with some of our classes it was decided that the Complete Animator would offer the most suitable introduction to animation for our pupils. The Complete Animator program proved a great success, pupils took to it easily (they have always been better at drawing with a mouse than I have!) and came up with simple ideas for a short story that involved movement.
This is how I introduce the program to our pupils:- I do not tell the pupils how difficult it can be but rather show them a simplified version that they can take to immediately, predominantly using the mouse skills they have already. Their computer skills should enable them to draw their idea effectively using the mouse. When I say draw, I do, of course, mean make a mark (some of our KS1 pupil are not yet able to produce representational work). Often we find it useful to introduce the pencil and eraser tools in a quick demonstration showing how to create and animate a stick man using 2 or 3 frames (see the video that comes with the Complete Animator.) This may include an introduction to the idea of inbetweening which shows a pale image of the previous frame enabling you to gauge where to put the part of the image that you rubbed out on the current frame. The quickness of the demonstration shows it can work, it can be easy and it promises quick results. None of these is of course strictly true but...... Sometimes I find it may be best to start the pupil copying one of their current drawing ideas - something they feel confident with drawing. If they like drawing cats ask them to draw a cat then ask to them build the drawing by asking where the cat is i.e. put in a background, what happens to the cat or what is it doing. Playing with a ball of wool would be good or waving their tail or simply smiling. Stop them every so often (perhaps every minute) to click the duplicate button (so the drawing can continue on the next frame) and when the drawing is complete play it back. This should show the drawing coming to life as more detail has been added frame by frame. If the drawing has taken ten minutes there should be ten frames which can playback over and over. I find that with special needs pupils this moving the drawing on also protects them from making too many irretrievable errors or losing all the work by rubbing it when they feel it may not be going well. For this reason, I also try to open a save as file to name it when they start drawing and click save every time I move it on to the next frame. Invariably with special needs pupils your gems can get lost if they are not saved regularly! Pupils can now be shown how to go back over it frame by frame adding colour with the paint can fill button giving the cartoon a finished look. Any changes in tone or colour from frame to frame can give the finished work a lively, animated quality resulting from both the drawings and the colours changing. Then add levels of difficulty as appropriate, by making suggestions or letting the demands of their story lead the skill levels required and, of course adding new skills to their repertoire. Pupils, once they start to see the possibilities, will come up with their own ideas and can be asked to use a storyboarding pro-forma which can consist of a piece of A4 paper divided into 6 or 8 rectangles as a comic-page like frame to draw a story in. This may also be the time to let them watch the accompanying video which takes them through the possibilities within the program. It is best if this is simple to start with. Favourite topics at Castle School are Frankie Muniz (celebrities), aliens, pets and wrestling. I find that short, simple ideas with a punch line work best. A cat wrestling an alien but saved by a celebrity, for instance, may initially be too complicated. A simple starting idea that I got from Geoff Clarkson at Southall School, Shrewsbury is to draw fireworks with the dotted freehand pencil on a black background (for the night sky) building shapes and colours on different frames. I want pupils to use it to produce animated responses to pictures by famous artists especially those in the New Art Gallery, Walsall, but would also like to encourage its use in other curriculum areas. In addition to its use in the literacy hour as an aid to speaking and listening, I also envisage using it to help record their study history projects (the Egyptians building the pyramids would provide wonderful imagery) and Science (logging the growth of a plant over time.) It may also be that initially the teacher tops and tail the animation, adding a title and credits. I see this as the digital version of mounting the work, displaying it to its best advantage and raising the self-esteem of the pupil by giving it a more professional finish. I have seen some of our pupils playing and re-playing their short (maybe 10-20 second) movies time and time again laughing and giggling at the end of it each time. This is an obvious sense of involvement providing a feedback that is often not apparent when a drawing or painting is completed. There is a sense of fun apparent and an understanding of how to react to a cartoon that at times they may find difficult with other artforms. Many of our pupils have problems with self-esteem and often expect to fail. It is pleasing to think they feel that they are succeeding in a medium the language of which they all understand. When they share their work with others in the class they too are amused and impressed, which is evident by their reaction. Adults are often amazed saying I couldn t do that which, in many cases, means both achieving that standard of drawing and then to creating an animation from it. These supportive comments and reactions from adults and peers help with personal development by creating and reinforcing a positive self-image.
Thus motivated they will soon come up with ever more complicated story-board ideas that are appropriate to the medium. Pupils will also be eager to be involved in all stages of completing their own movie. Ideas can be developed and modified as part of the creative process using sketchbooks and homework time to play with and to plan ideas.
The projects can be made by individuals or by teams. Working as teams can increase the opportunities for interaction, for speaking and listening in their planning and the expression of ideas. As a special school we have low numbers in our classes but there are still times that I use the planning process through story boarding as a tool for managing the numbers in a class and availability of computers. I also have planned to use graphics tablets to draw with a pen onto a pad emulating drawing onto paper and bypassing the need to use a mouse to draw on a computer screen, but haven t got around to it yet.
Pupils can be put in the role of director or film-maker and criticise the programmes they watch at home in terms of story, editing use of various camera shots etc.
Longer or shorter projects can be developed depending in patience and commitment. The finished animations can be saved onto floppy discs as gif files and then transferred to your website to impressively offer movement which really stands out amongst all that static text and imagery that is already there.
We can use and capitalise on the interest in making of extras offered by DVDs. These develop interest and stimulate curiosity in how things are done. They show the film as a creative project, the result of teamwork over a long period. Good examples are Chicken Run, Lord of the Rings and Pixar/Disney films. The recent Lord of the Rings DVDs release offered as DVD extras, documentaries on how the books were adapted, how the visual look of the film was developed using the work of illustrators that had been used to illustrate the books over the years. Experts talked about locations, design of weapons, costumes, sets and models and the use of computer generated imagery (CGI). It also gets across the importance of drawing, through story boards, as a planning and communication tool when it is not necessary evident in the final result. This offers an enlightening course on many aspects of film- making, looking at the many artistic-related careers and processes involved.
I would encourage any teacher to investigate using the Complete Animator. It is a small relatively cheap (www.iota.co.uk) program. I use it at a very basic level to encourage ideas and drawing skills and to try to improve concentration levels. I can thoroughly recommend it, knowing that it provides good support through the video and guide book to get it up and running easily, as well as offering on-line help. I have not mentioned many of the features like adding sound effects or printing off flick books for those that are more ambitious.
Animation at Castle School has done wonders for motivation and achievement. Pupils with communication difficulties are given a means of expression that they can relate to, often having more videos and DVDs at home than books. The medium of animation stimulates their imagination encouraging them to develop and express their own ideas in their own animation styles. It provides an alternative way of communicating. The process engages pupils, helping with their prediction and storytelling skills by getting them to ask what happens next? It motives pupils offering another vehicle for the high, individual standards of the artwork produced at our school. It gives us the opportunity to exhibit and share our work through the internet. The results are often breathtaking.
They also make me laugh!
Chris Lee - Nov.2003