Animation assignment…

Here’s the second assignment I hand out to my high school students – Animation (the old fashioned way). My students are called in educationese “diverse.” This means they come from an extremely wide range of backgrounds. They are young (most of my class this year is freshmen) and hormonal and very active. They are passionate about what they like and don’t like. Basically, at 14-15, they are still kids. I have to keep this in mind when I make assignments. Animation is a team assignment and is meant to be a team builder as much as teach patience. The upfront lesson/explanation I give the kids is that they need to understand that there are 30 individual still shots in each second of video and this lesson is meant to drive that home.
One second = 30 frames
One minute = 1800 frames

The actual assignment is to use a storyboard and show me their plot or storyline. It has to include a title and credits slide (we’re using iMovie). I have to approve the storyboard (for obvious reasons if you’ve worked with teens).

It usually takes a full class period for them to agree on the storyboard and a second class to shoot the assignment. Storyboarding includes noting what props they need – toy cars, dolls, clay. They are responsible for their materials (although I do try to have a supply of Play Doh on hand).

Students work in teams of three – one student running the camera shooting still frames or stills and the other two moving the props/clay.

They import the video/stills into the computer, use the fast/slow effect to speed it up, “share” or export it to the desktop, import and then speed up again. (This is one of the weaknesses of iMovie – it will only allow you to use an effect once. Then you either have to export and bring the file back or lay another effect on/like color contrast before it will let you do fast/slow again.)

Once the video is fast enough (ten seconds) students create their title slide and credits slide and add music. Their last step is to burn to a full quality QuickTime file so we can place it in a DVD at the end of the semester.

What has always amused me about this assignment is the initial resistance – the whining, the screaming: “What do you mean 300 shots?” The attitudes are completely reversed once they are done editing – they are calling me over, insisting I watch their creations. They know they have really accomplished something. (I even had a student grab his laptop once and run up to the principal’s office to show off his work.)

So there you have it – good old fashioned animation, lots of patience and learning how to work together. If you’re asking yourself how this helps you as a videojournalist – ask yourself: Do I have to work as part of a team? Do I need patience? Wouldn’t it be fun to take a few hours with some co-workers and create something silly just to show we can?

Truth be told, if you work as on a TV news crew, you must be close enough at times to read each other’s minds. When I first started, the reporters would tell me what they expected (hey, I was new)…but as time went on, it was more of a conversation about where the story was going. The more you work with someone, the more you know what they expect and the more they understand the workings of your mind. But there does need to be converstation. I remember one day I was out shooting a standup with reporter Craig Prosser (we worked together for 12 years) and he got a bit crabby with me because I wasn’t shooting the way he wanted. Then we both realized that he hadn’t even discussed it with me – we’d been working together so long that we were able to choreograph and create standups without a discussion most of the time – and in this one case we did need to talk because of the moves he needed to make as he presented his information.

I’ll try to post a student animation as soon as I can get the necessary permission slips filed.

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