Toon Time!

Over the past week, I have run three full-day animation workshops – two in school, under the umbrella of our Summer Camps programme, and one with my sister and her two children. Having learned the essentials of the Zu3D software package a few years ago at CampED, with Martin Bailey (a.k.a. @Animate2Educate), I decided to go with this for my workshops too. (Looking ahead to the forthcoming academic year, I plan to run after-school animation activities, as well, so it was a useful reminder of how it all works!)

In this blog post I intend to record a few of the things we learned over the past week, partly to help me in future, but also in case it proves useful to anyone else making their first steps in animation.

Storyboarding

On the two out of three days where I stipulated that storyboards were created before any thing else happened, the eventual outcomes were so much better. I created storyboard proforma (see above), based on an idea I found online, and encouraged the children to plot their way through their possible scenarios carefully, focusing on the following aspects in each scene:

  • characters
  • scenery
  • action
  • dialogue
  • sound effects
  • music

Characters & Scenery

I provided a selection of Lego-style characters for my school groups – although they turned out to be all male, when Amazon delivered, and this didn’t go down well, understandably! A bit of plasticine customisation and all was well… Lego mini-figures are ideal for stop-motion animation, with their stable bases and posable limbs. On the downside, their facial expressions are fixed. It would be possible to switch heads over to show changed emotions, but this would be tricky to achieve without moving the whole character, with all that entails in terms of achieving smooth movements…

The children also enjoyed creating bespoke plasticine characters and creatures, which is easy enough to do, and allows for imaginations to run truly wild! You do of course sacrifice a little solidity, but are able to play around with the more flexible physics inherent in this medium.

The simplest way to “do” scenery is to draw, paint or print off a backdrop. We found that this worked well, this week – although it is important to fix it securely to a solid, flat vertical surface so that you don’t jog it by mistake! In school, boxes of A4 paper were ideal: nice and heavy, with flat sides. Flat backgrounds are of course less sophisticated than moving ones, but also less distracting from foreground action.

One thing we didn’t explore this week, but which we hopefully will in future, is the ability to shoot or import live action video, and then add in overlays of graphics, GIFs and other visuals. This will also require us to try out the feature which allows you to “erase” part(s) of an overlaid character, thereby making it look like it’s behind things in the foreground… very clever stuff. This same technique would allow you to remove strings, wires or even hands, bringing characters or objects into view “in mid-air”, which is obviously impossible otherwise, in stop-motion.

Within Zu3D and other similar packages, there is a built-in chroma-key feature, more commonly known as “green-screening”. We gave this a try at one of the workshops. A few points to bear in mind: first of all, if you are using a green screen, make sure it is really flat before you start filming, as every little wrinkle will need “ironing out” in post-production, which is time-consuming and fiddly. Secondly, make sure none of your characters or props have green clothes or other elements, as it is a bit of a pain to deal with this in the post-production process! Finally, it is possible to dial the sensitivity of the chroma-key setting up and down within the software.

Incidentally, for my school animation club I am planning on making purpose-built stages, partly to ensure that the cameras can’t move by mistake, but also so that a totally flat green-screen can be incorporated from the start, like this:

Action & Dialogue

We found that it made sense to shoot all the visuals first, and then add all the audio and other effects afterwards. If you do this, though, bear in mind that you need to plan how long the action needs to last in order for the dialogue to fit. (So this is one time when a carefully-planned storyboard really helps!) It is possible to extend scenes in post-production but that is a bit fiddly. One feature of Zu3D which is really useful here is the ability to record audio, such as dialogue, straight into the film, watching the video so you can match the words to the pictures – and then drag it straight into the timeline, adjusting it as required. You can even add multiple layers of audio, making the scene more and more complex.

When shooting action sequences, it is important to keep in mind that all the characters are “on stage”, and so they need to be treated as actors: characters must react to events, to dialogue and to their own words – moving their heads and arms, for example. If a character simply stands still for too long, it looks odd…

We tended to film with the software set to its default, 12 frames per second, but it is possible to dial this up to 24 if smoother, faster action is required. Depending on what is actually going on on set, you can shoot one frame of action, then move the onstage characters / props etc., then shoot another frame, and so on – or if the action is slightly slower, you can take 2, 3 or more frames at once. If required, chunks of action can be copied and pasted, although this can look repetitive or jerky if not done carefully. We usually had one pupil running the laptop and one or more dealing with the stage, moving the characters and other elements. Decide on a signal in advance, so that they all know when a shot is about to be taken, to avoid too many unwanted hands in the frame! Wherever possible, don’t move the camera: we sellotaped ours to the table! If you do not it by mistake, the “onion skin” feature allows you to reposition it as close as possible to the previous setting…

Watch out for shadows: depending on your light source, if the animators move around the stage a lot in between frames, the amount and position of shadows cast into the set can vary, with resultant effect on the final film. There is built-in lighting around the lens on the Zu3D camera, allowing for steady lighting from the front of the set.

Sound Effects & Music

The Zu3D package, and others like it, comes complete with a (fairly limited) range of effects and music – some more useful than others, it is fair to say! It is possible to find royalty-free sound effects and music online, of course, to give an animation a really professional touch. And it’s also great fun to make your own sound effects. Having spoken to the Head of Music at school, I know she is really keen to exploit Animation as an additional facet of Ballard’s already burgeoning Performing Arts scene, and so I expect pupils to start composing original soundtrack material in the near future… Watch (or should that be “Listen to”) this space!

Well, that’s about it for now, although I hope to add more posts once term restarts, and my Animation Club gets going… Here are the three films made this week, for your enjoyment (fingers crossed!)

Firstly, rockumentary-come-scifi epic “Magical Moonrock

Then monster-movie-with-a-happy-ending “The Snake Attack

And last but not least, a heart-warming birthday party-with-a-difference: “Party Time

Hollywood, here we come!


Summer-y

NFDS

Sailability at Blashford Lake

Well, I have just been creating a new InigoApp digital calling card, drawing together various facets of my e-life (phone, social media, webstuff…) including this blog, and it occurred to me that there was nothing recent actually on here – and that I’d better do something about it, just in case anyone actually has a look… So there we are.

Summer has often been a rather funny time for me, in recent years. It has seen the stealthy beginnings of the black dog’s stalkings – but only in retrospect, unfortunately. I only feel the heavy paws on my shoulders once it has been matching my steps for some time. And then it’s always been too late…

Not this summer, I hope, though.

I got to the end of the academic year in pretty reasonable fettle – despite the final half-term of the year always being my busiest, what with French Exchange trip, exam marking, report writing and so on, on top of the day-to-day-job, herding classfuls of cats as they plunge headlong towards the finish line.

Now where I have sometimes ‘gone wrong’* in the past is letting myself drop off a cliff, immediately after term finishes, going from 60 to 0 in a matter of days, lolling about listening to stuff in the garden and not… doing anything, much. Which has, I guess, stored up challenges for September when the opposite situation looms, and a fresh new cliff-face has to be scaled.

So over the past couple of years I have looked to keep myself gainfully occupied over the summer and beyond. Volunteering at my local Sailability club has been hugely rewarding as well as great fun, and has tapped into something a part of me which first really surfaced in the summer of 2012, in my time as a Gamesmaker.

And I have also rediscovered acting, with Lymington Players. Last year I actually took part in all three productions, meaning that I was rehearsing two evenings a week from September to April, with a short break over Christmas… Tiring, but a vital ‘safety valve’, ensuring that I didn’t get too blinkered and allow the work-life balance to lurch too heavily to the ‘work’ side.

This summer, as well as keeping up with the volunteering, I am running some sessions at my school’s Summer Camp – an Animation Workshop, shepherding kids through the basics of stop-motion animation and green-screening.

So I don’t anticipate feeling the hot breath of the aforementioned black dog down my neck anytime soon… fingers crossed.

 

 

*not that there’s actually anything wrong with that… put the ‘beat yourself stick’ down, Alex!


Marching for Europe

Along with somewhere between 80 and 100,000 other people of all ages, shapes, sizes, creeds, colours and origins, I spent the day in London yesterday, marching from Hyde Park Corner to Parliament Square. I felt a powerful urge to exercise my democratic right to call into question the course of action set in motion since last September’s Referendum (a ballot called by a since-discredited Prime Minister to placate right-wingers in his own party, which had instead seen the country duped into “cutting off its legs because its thumb hurts”, to quote a placard seen on the route).

The March itself took place in stunning Spring sunshine. I even got a bit of sunburn, which felt a strangely un-British thing to do on a March in March. As one of the many brilliant placards put it: “I’m British. I’m on a march. Things *must* be bad.” The atmosphere was a curious mix of genial camaraderie and well-behaved simmering anger, in an aural kaleidoscope of many of the languages spoken by UK-residing EU nationals, just as anxious as me at the uncertain future being traced out for them by the British Government.

A few little snippets from along the route which stand out in my memory: a growing collection of daffodils laid at the foot of the Cenotaph, symbol of what happens when nationalism and populism are allowed to run unchecked…  “All You Need Is Love” playing at high volume from a flat overlooking Whitehall, chorused by marchers as we walked by… an outlandishly-clad Brexiteer on Park Lane, with a placard proudly proclaiming his claim that the Bible foretold Boris Johnson’s espousal of Brexit – loudly countered by a fellow marcher pointing out that there is “no blond hair in the Bible”, to guffaws from the passing crowds… looking up and down Park Lane from halfway down and seeing nothing but flag-waving fellow-marchers in either direction… 

Once we arrived at Parliament Square, the mood was, once again, a rather curious combination: the heady feeling that we were inhabiting a page of history, combined with a sombre awareness that we stood mere metres away from the Carriage Gate and Westminster Bridge, scene of Wednesday’s apalling atrocity. Along with many others, I laid flowers at the Gate, and quietly thanked the police standing guard where PC Keith Palmer died in the line of duty. I am sure it is not my imagination that several of them seemed close to tears at the floral response to their colleague’s courageous actions.

Before the speeches began, an emotional minute’s silence was observed in tribute to PC Palmer, Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran and Leslie Rhodes, as well as the other victims still in critical condition following Wednesday’s attack.

Opening the speeches was Seb Dance MEP – brought to many peoples’ attention over his spontaneous visual trolling of Nigel Farage in the European Parliament with a hand-written “He’s lying to you”. His impassioned words, ending “we will never be cowed – we are here to stand for our beliefs” in a double reference to last Wednesday as well as to Brexit, were followed by an even more powerful address from Tim Farron. I will admit to having lost whatever faith I had in the Liberal Democrats over their propping up of the Conservation Coalition, but Mr Farron spoke with cold fire, accusing Theresa May of making Farage look like a moderate in comparison, such is her apparent desire to drive Britain towards the precipice of a Hard Brexit rather than acknowledge the need to achieve a consensus, working not just for the 52% but also the 48%. His defiant tone pointedly underlined the fact that democracy did not come to a halt at 11pm on the 23rd June 2016, but is an ongoing process, in which those who voted Remain – and the voiceless thousands who were not able to vote or who were eligible but for whatever reason chose not to – must also be heard. Interestingly he also advocated solidarity and respect for those who had voted Leave, but have since realised that words written on the side of red buses carry less weight than they had been led to believe during the campaign.

QC Jo Maugham, whose tweets on the subject I have found to be well worth reading, spoke of his recent legal action against the Government, and of the fact that triggering Article 50 is part of a journey, from which we can turn back – not a destination in itself, with bridges burning in the background… He was also one of several speakers who pointed out that the Referendum had taken place in a pre-Trump era (doesn’t that seem like a long time ago!), before an unPresidented White House incumbent who wants to tear up trade rules, weaken Nato, challenge expert opinion on climate change, and advocates populist and isolationist policies on just about everything else. Are we really planning to cut ourselves adrift from the albeit imperfect security of a collaborative, solid EU family, in this unpredictable global context?

For me as an educator, perhaps the most “goose-bumpy” moments of the afternoon came when 4 young people were called to the stage, aged between 16 and 25, who focused attention on the fact that the “decision” set in motion last September had far-reaching implications for their generation in particular, as it will be them who have to face the consequences of whatever Brexit turns out to look like, for the longest time. The first of this quartet, a 16 year-old self-proclaimed “British, Muslism, Pakistani, European”, was arguably one of the most impressive speakers all afternoon, and would appear to have a promising career in prospect as a politician, unless he can do better for himself 😉

I left Parliament Square and walked across Westminster Bridge, feeling proud to have “put my money where my mouth is”, so-to-speak, and stood shoulder to shoulder with my fellow “Remainers”. The Bridge was festooned with more floral tributes to the dead and injured from last Wednesday… but was also a living witness to the sheer vibrant, cosmopolitan nature of London and the wider UK, a multicoloured people-stream of Londoners and tourists on their way to who-knows-where. Who knows where this country is headed? Certainly not Theresa May, David Davis and co. Wednesday 29th is an uncertain step into a rather worrying future, but after today I am less despairing than I may have been before.


#nurture1617 #teacher5aday… Onwards and upwards!

This post is my contribution both to the 4th annual #nurture project initiated by @chocotzar back in ’13-14 and to the #teacher5aday movement driven by @martynreah…The former aims to look back at 2016’s highlights and forward to hopes and aspirations for 2017; the latter is founded upon these 5 elements: 

#connect, #exercise, #notice, #learn and #volunteer.

2016, eh? It’s become an almost daily routine to check the feeds and see what world-wobbling political event or other has lurched unbidden into view… what natural or man-made disaster has stricken populations in yet another corner of the globe… what beloved celebrity has joined the ranks of those shuffling off this mortal coil…

And yet here we are at dusk on the final day of the year and I find myself looking perhaps naively forward into 2017 with a sense of (slightly desperate?) optimism. In a year where we have seen quite how much damage can be done by a relatively small number of people, both at home and abroad, I feel that there must come a tipping point in the other direction: turning Burke’s famous line on its head, if you will: all that is necessary for the triumph of good is that good people do something. It is my underlying hope for 2017 that there be enough good people out there, doing the right thing, that the reactionary forces working against tolerance, collaboration, fairness and justice are simply swept aside in a rising tide of sheer… humanity. 

I saw at first hand what can be achieved by a relatively small group of like-minded individuals when I spent a week in Calais in October, volunteering with Care4Calais, a charity established a few years ago when one person put her money – or time, marriage and health, in fact – where her mouth is and decided to DO something rather than wring her hands daily at the misery taking place a mere few miles away, but a convenient political gulf away for our politicians. It is my firm intention to spend more time there in the New Year, and if anyone would like to join me at half-term, you’d be most welcome. I also spent the Summer holidays volunteering at my local Sailability club, down the road at Blashford Lake… a Summer full of incredible sporting success by TeamGB and ParalympicsGB over in Rio, crowned for me personally by the amazing Gold medal-winning performance of a former pupil, Mikey Jones. (who has this morning capped a remarkable year by being awarded an MBE!)

I have re-connected with another fantastic band of people this year – the happy thespians of the Lymington Players, in our recent week’s run of an adaptation of Conan-Doyle’s “Hound of the Baskervilles”. I was cast as Jack Stapleton, a burnt-out teacher “given to emotional outbursts” – so not too much of a stretch, then! The sense of team-work conspiring to achieve a common goal is something not always so readily apparent in professional life, and where some find stepping out under the lights an intimidating experience, to me it is genuinely when I feel at my most alive. In a first for me, we struck the set on the Sunday following our final performance… and then started rehearsing for the next show the very next day, with barely a chance to catch our breath… I am also playing three very different characters, this time around (a Scottish ship’s captain, a frightfully posh Knight and a peasant called Obidiah Bobblenob), so it is fair to say I am a little further outside my comfort zone…

I have also made a rather unusual new connection, having decided post-referendum to apply for Estonian e-residency. I recently travelled up to the Estonian Embassy to receive my new ID card, and in 2017 watch this space as I explore the digital opportunities this new avenue affords me…

Exercise-wise, it has been a great year. I ended the 2015-16 hockey season playing 5 matches for the New Forest Hockey Club 2nd XI, a considerable step up from the Ballard Staff & Parents Team I have trained and played with for the past 4 years. Over the summer I continued attending weekly training, which was pretty rigorous, and which helped prepare me for my biggest challenge of the year: the 2016 “Shut Up Legs” New Forest Ride with recently-retired Grand Tour great Jens Voigt, raising money for The Epilepsy Society… Although I had totted up quite a total on the road in the weeks leading up to the ride, it was my longest time in the saddle for over 15 years – 80 km of rain-soaked pain! But the sense of achievement at the end was fantastic, and the chance to chat to Jens in German when he rode with my group for a stretch was brilliant for a Tour de France nut like me. 

You may have noticed that I have, so far, not made more than an oblique mention of work. I take this as a positive sign. Where 2015 was, latterly, a struggle which saw me dip back into depression for a lengthy patch, I have bounced back in 2016, and with the help and support of family, friends and #mfltwitterati amongst other online pals, I have maintained an even keel and a very healthy life-work balance. In fact I am starting to call it life balance, as work is part of life – life is not an adjunct struggling to coexist alongside or even in the shadow of the lowering bulk of work. As we all know, work can and will expand to fill all the space we allow it to unless we are careful to establish that balance. And so it is my firm intention to continue maintaining my health, and if that means saying NO and putting me first from time to time, so be it. 

One way I am going to do this is to establish a positive routine of “not-work” activities: alongside my continued thesping; I will continue to play hockey every Saturday; I will be using my Daily Greatness Journal to help me establish a framework to support my efforts; I will get out on my bike at least once a week (and with the new gear I got for Christmas from my darling wife, I have no excuse not to!); I will be doing my best to join in with the #WeeklyBlogChallenge17… and I will teach myself to play my new ukelele (that’s my #learn bit, by the way, amongst other daily lessons). 

So there!

So what is left? Notice. I will notice when my wife needs my support, rather than the other way around. I will notice when I haven’t picked up the phone/dropped a quick WhatsApp to friends for a while, and do something about it. I will notice when a pupil seems a little quieter than usual, and see what I can do to help. I will notice the little details that make small, otherwise imperceptible positive contributions to my day. I will notice when my (online) friends drop off the radar for a bit, and gently see if anything is up. #BDamigos stick together, you see…
Because friendship is the most important thing, really… And that is how I want to end this post. It’s been a great week for friendship. My wife and I attended the wedding of a good friend, who at the age of 42 has finally found the right person to spend the rest of his life with… the whole day was a wonderful life-affirming experience, flooded with joy, and a great opportunity to reconnect with many friends we had not seen for far too long. Finally, another friend, whose young baby we all welcomed into our online circle, had recently communicated to us that they had found a worrying growth, that the little guy was going in for tests to see what was up, and that it didn’t look good. Well, in a wonderful end to what has been a year of big blows, she has just heard that the tests have come back completely benign, and yesterday she let us all know that he is out of the woods. 

I take it as a sign that we can stride purposefully and positively into the New Year with renewed confidence. And sod Trump, Brexit, Putin, Assad, Katie Hopkins and all the rest of ’em!

Let’s do this!

Movin’ On Up


See what I DID* there?

I can’t really believe nobody’s come up with it before, but after Andy Lewis suggested it yesterday, here are my Desert Island Discs (bearing in mind they are prone to change every few days…). And I couldn’t get it down to any less than 15. And even that involved leaving quite a few out. I may come back to this and explain why I chose them at some point…

In no particular order of preference:

I Am The Resurrection – Stone Roses

MLK – U2

I’m In The Mood For Love* – Jay Kay & Jools Holland

One Day Like This – Elbow

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths

Sit Down – James

The Only One I Know – The Charlatans

New Shoes – Paolo Nutini

Dakota – Stereophonics

L’Aventurier – Indochine

Peaches – The Presidents Of The United States Of America

Enter Sandman – Metallica

Unfinished Sympathy – Massive Attack

Sweet Jane – Cowboy Junkies

Tacoma Trailer – Leonard Cohen

I am looking forward to seeing what other people have selected!

*D esert I sland D iscs

**our first dance when C and I got married… 😉


Trad v Prog: a false dichotomy?

I was walking down a street in London today when I saw the tree in the photo I took, above. (Apologies for the Prisma-fication, by the way… the addiction is apparently treatable if caught early enough…)

And as I drove home this evening it started to occur to me that the tree v fence image was an interesting metaphor for the apparently insoluble Trad v Prog debate raging on Edu-Twitter. Martin Robinson wrote this post 11 months ago about the apparently intractable tension between the two, maintaining that there is in fact no dichotomy – “the classroom can’t be both subject-centred and child-centred.”

Bear with me, now. Let’s say the fence is the determinedly traditionalist teacher, founding his or her approach on a rigorous, predetermined adherence to a curriculum of the “greatest that has been thought, said and done”…in a setting  which places the emphasis upon order, control and a predominantly didactic style. 

But I would propose that the tree is the learning of a class of children, at first reaching towards those thoughts, sayings and deeds, but then growing past them, messily and unpredictably, with some growth heading in one direction, some in others. 

And surely the “greatest that has been thought, said and done” must by definition evolve with human progress, not remain firmly entrenched and stubbornly rooted in the past?

But I would actually maintain that there is a way to have our cake and eat it, here; just as the fence has allowed the tree to grow, so the tree has not torn the fence from its foundation. In contrast to Martin I would propose that “traditional and progressive can happily co-exist” in one classroom… and I am going to keep trying to prove it…

I would be very interested in what others have to say in response to my tree-based metaphor!

I am Groot


On tech vs pens vs progs vs trads vs millions of displaced children, in refugee camps, with no educational provision at all. Like, seriously…

Miss Scott Said What?

My timeline today has been full of comments and arguments regarding technology such as minecraft. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what it is, but that’s me and tech. I break it. It goes wrong. So I swerve. Be it a photocopier or an app, chances are that I touch it and it will jam, freeze, shut down, poo itself.

Yeah I see the value of an interactive smart whizzy speakered board and yeah I use mobile phones in lessons, yeah I use video and music at times, I’ve even been known to use banks of iPads. Sometimes I use drama, I’ve also been known to sing (badly) in a neon flashing mike, pilfered from Reflex. I’ve even used a sock puppet app. Crazy. Are these things gimmicks? Maybe.

The actual truth is quite simple; I’m a teacher, I try bits, some work, some don’t. If they don’t I…

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