How to make animations with your students
I am excited to write about animation, as I am a graduate from NYC’s School of Visual Arts animation department. Since graduating and now teaching art for five years, I have tried to pass my enthusiasm for this art and it’s skills, techniques and history to my middle school students. For this article I try to research some of the open source animation programs out there, but to come up with another Yahoo Contributor article on Apple Apps for Education.
Two years ago, I downloaded the open source program Scratch, which is very much supported by education and allows students to create video games and/or animation which can then be sampled by the entire world through their website. When the students used this program, I guided them along through a series of tutorials that I had discovered within the teacher resources and lesson plans on the site. Unfortunately, even though their instruction was self paced, many of the students had a difficult time working with the somewhat complex idea of command codes.
The principle of Scratch is that nearly anyone can design a sprite (an object or character to animate) and then drag and drop in computer code that snaps together like Lego blocks. By creating the right code sequence, students can tell their sprite to change into another costume (which would be the next drawing in a sequence of drawings to suggest movement), but they can also move their sprite, play music or start their interactive game. Scratch even color codes the categories of their codes, but even though it offers all of these tips and tutorials, most students found the most success when they downloaded a pre existing game or sprite from the Scratch site and slightly modified it, such as numerous versions of Pac Man. The final aspect of the program is that they can upload their work to the site or they can embed their playable applet into their own website. For more information on Scratch or a brief tutorial, check out my video on You Tube.
There are a few others open source programs out there that can be used, depending on the overall desired product. GIMP is a program that I have been discussing here and there through my other articles, and my students and I have used it to make very simple animations, such as to save a .GIF or to animate a logo for their website. By using the layers function within GIMP, students can activate the special “animate” filter, and GIMP will start to play one layer after the next as they appear in the layer window. Your animations can get very complex, but you are limited by the creativity of your layer placement.
Another open source program that I have discovered from the Source Forge website was Pencil, which allows users to create Flash movies or Quicktime .MOV files. I will be honest, I do not have that much experience with Pencil just yet, but I have already seen that it is a pretty comfortable drawing program, allows the user to insert sounds or .BMP files and to draw with layers. Animating with layers is such a great tool in animation, and it can only be described by analyzing the animation from years of Hanna Barbera cartoons. Such as, have you ever watched an episode of The Flintstones, Scooby Doo or The Smurfs and you may have noticed that the characters were walking forever against a rotating background. What the Hanna Barbera animators would do to conserve their funds and resources on this expensive form of art, would be to cycle the same set of drawings of the legs (called a Walk Cycle) on one layer of animation. On another layer, they may just draw the shape of the character’s head, and on a third layer, they would draw in the eyes or mouth. This way, the animators would not have to draw an entire body every frame (and it would take twenty-four frames of drawings to equal one second of footage) and could instead devote their time to just animating what they needed to in order to get their story across.
If open source programs are not the way for you, I have also discovered a few apps at the Apple App Store, such as Flibboom Lite and Animation Creator. Flipboom is made by the award winning animation program developers, Toon Boom, who claim to be the industry’s leader in software development and use. I met a representative from Toon Boom at a recent Ed Tech Conference. They have a variety of programs and support for K-12 education, will provide the drawing tablet hardware and they even designed a curriculum for your animation class. After skimming through their material, I thought their resources were great, but I think unless you plan to teach animation ALL year/semester with your students, then I don’t think it is worth the investment. If you would like to just tease your students with animation knowledge, download the Flipboom Lite app. Students can learn the basics of animation, but the app fails at letting students showcase their work and exporting it to another device or platform.
Animation Creator HD Lite is the free version of the app where students can learn the basics of animation and can seem to pick up the familiarity of it quite simply. If you are eager enough to shell out the two dollars or so, you can invest in the full version, which allows users to upload their animation immediately to their You Tube or Twitter account. The full version also maintains a gallery for the user so that they can keep track of several pieces of animation as they work. I also found the hard way that this is a bad attraction, as I had several students who would “steal” or delete other student’s work within the gallery if they share the same Ipod between classes. But overall, I have really liked this app, and I think that Pencil is a great desktop counterpart to it. If you would like to see the Greek Myth animations that my students made with this app, you can check out the compilation video on You Tube right here. Until then, I shall be keeping all of you education fans out there up to date with more ed tech ideas for your students.
Apple App Store