Five-year-olds computer animating

Is there a minimum age-limit when it comes to computer animation? Well, I’m sure there is for toddlers and babies, but in the summer camp I’m in, there’s three little kids that are entering kindergarten in September. They’re all five. They reach out their hand for me to hold if I chance to walk them from room to room. They skip a little bit as they go. They have little baby-kid voices. When I first heard how little some of the kids were at this camp, I thought: maybe I’ll just have the big kids animate, and the little kids can at least then watch the final movie. They’ll participate by being spectators.

But then I thought, what the heck. I’ll try it with them all. And the five-year-olds are doing really well. Two of them are a little hesitant, and stare at me with big adorable somewhat clueless smiles before they dare to touch any of the keys on the laptop. The third is super sharp and does the ‘G’, ‘S’, and ‘R’ keys of Blender 3D (‘go’, ‘size’, and ‘rotate’) like she’s a boss, and with the biggest, most excited smile, and the most eager look on her face.

five-year-old doing computer animation

Animating at a summer camp

I had written a dour and grim post about the futility of applying to grants, but before it went live, I actually received one.

Which means I was able to do one more ‘Animations with kids’ project in Concord before my run here ends (at least for the expected near future.) I am working with a group of 40 kids part of a summer camp in downtown Concord. I’m with them for over a month. The camp directors are very accommodating, and give me all the time I need. I can pull kids individually to work with whenever, so we are hopefully going to complete two films. It’s very exciting because it’s the first time I have ever been able to do two animations with the same group of kids. It means I get to see how they grow between their two turns at using Blender. So far, the second round of animating has been spectacular! Some of the kids are really like a young director, moving things around and making decisions and just in general being the boss of things. It’s great to see.

Oh, best of all, one of these kids will actually have animated with me three times 🙂 Because he was in Mrs. Bravo-Boyd’s second-grade class last year, which did “All about butterflies.” It was such a surprise when I saw him in front of me and realized who he was on my first day at the camp!

I’m realizing more and more, too, how important the component of the project is that requires them to record their voices as they read. We sometimes do a couple of takes together, and this batch of kids is really paying attention to how they sound. They’ll notice if their recording is too staccato, and ask to re-do it. They’ll notice if their voice wavers off as they get to the end of the sentence. I never had so many kids ask to re-do their recording, without prompting from me. And the expression in some of their voices is phenomenal.

Animating with young girl

animating with kids
Here they are watching “The grass is not trash”, that a fifth-grader class at Wolf Meadow made this past spring, so they get an idea of what the project is like.

Animations of geology

In the last few weeks, I made one of the coolest things I ever made in Blender: these planetary marbles rolling towards each other while swirling inside:

And before that, I made a volcano and a glacier.

I hope I’ll be able to use these in something creative.

Helping out at the Science Festival

We had a “Science Festival” on Union Street, and I got to share about my Animations with Kids project. In typical fashion, I started making my poster about 5 hours before the event started.

Animations with kids poster

(But I got it done in time!)

Now, I’m pretty proud of my poster, because in keeping with the environmental theme of “Animations with kids”, I did such a good job at recycling and re-using for this poster! First, I searched in my brother’s closest and found his old posterboard from like 20 years back, in which he described his invention “the reflector”, and declared he had won 2 Nobel Prizes for his inventions and written 20 books, or something. Any case. Of course, this “thing of beauty and a joy forever” must not be destroyed, so I instead got some construction paper that has been lying unused in our personal “school store” for about 15 years, and tacked it up all over the poster, safely hiding “the reflector” and giving me a blank slate for my own poster material.

Next, I grabbed some pins that I’d bought like 13 years ago, and used those attach the construction paper to the poster. I ended up with quite a dangerous contraption, in that all the pins were poking out at odd and dangerous angles out from the back of the poster. Since I knew a lot of kids would be at this festival (plus there were the possible recriminations to my own hands and body), I re-worked the pins so that they were directed – as much as possible – straight down into the cardboard part of the posterboard. So many of the pointy tips were ensconced were they could do no harm, and otherwise they were at least tilted down.

And then I found some colored scotch tape – surely 10 years old – that my Dad had lying around; and more construction paper from bygone days; and I went to the library down the street were I was able to print out pictures in color for 75 cents per page, with 3-4 pictures crammed into a page, and put together my poster.

Now, when I had first read the instructions about the Science Festival, I had just skimmed them to get the main points. Or did I even skim? Any case, my impression from my “skimming” had been that I needed to make a poster. Well, with about 3 or 4 hours to go, I decided I would be wise and read the entire instructions more carefully, and that was when I discovered I was actually supposed to provide an activity for the kids to do — and I was supposed to prepare this for about 200 kids!

And this is where my reuse and recycle philosophy kicked into high gear. I had a packet of cute little cut-outs that I’ve been hauling around for about 6 years ago, ever since I was at an environmental literacy event where I used to work in Maryland. I don’t even remember what event it was, but I thinking I was helping out at it, and they were doing some sort of activity that required lots of things like this:

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They’re all beautifully cut, and the construction paper is in pretty colors and really high-quality. All the left-overs (there’s like 300) were going to be thrown-away that day, so I rescued them, and have used them twice since: once to make certificates for the “All about butterflies” viewing party. And now I decided they would hold me in good stead for the event I had a booth at in 3 hours. I decided I would let kids that came to my booth write “messages” about the environment on these, and I told them I’d then make an animation out of their messages (hasn’t happened yet).

So I packed the pretty cut-outs, sharpies I found lying around my dad’s house, and some other essentials into a shoebox, stacked it neatly over my folded posterboard with the pins, and with 20 minutes to go until 5 pm, trudged down Union Street to the Rotary Square where, alas – I ought to have known – my booth was one of the least popular for the next two hours. Oh, well.

Animations with kids event

Making people in Blender 3D

My first attempts at making people in Blender looked like this: a came up with a baby with a detachable head.

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She lost one of her cheeks, and she had no hands and non-moving arms. However, she’s still pretty cute, isn’t she?

Then I moved on to these teenagers:

Blender first peopleBlender first people

They’re pretty cute, too!

I then explored the world of stick figures:

Blender people stick figures

And finally, I tried making fully fleshed creatures. This is what I came up with:

Blender scary people

Some people think they look very scary. But you know what? Even though they don’t have fingers, they are still able to drink their hot tea.

I gave up on making people for a few years after that, but finally, I thought I’d try again and I came up with …

Blender people Agnes

Isn’t she absolutely lovely? I couldn’t believe my eyes when she was done. Her name is Agnes.

And the coolest part I’ve discovered, is that I just have to make a few tweaks to the face – nothing extreme at all – and I’ll come up with a whole new person. Like Eve coming from Adam’s rib, or however it goes.

So I tweaked Agnes’ cheeks, eyes, and hair just a bit, and I got Ebba:

Blender people thumbs up

A big give-away is the hair on the forehead – same pattern, though Ebba’s strands are longer. Ebba and Agnes are friends, here you see them standing together.

Here Agnes and Ebba look at a rose:

Blender people rose

Yes, they have fingers but no toes.

Then I made a girl with brown hair, a blue skirt, and a ribbon in her hair called Margaret. Margaret comes from Agnes. Her lips are fuller and nose is narrower, but they look quite a bit alike.

Blender people Madicken

And from her, I made a girl called Lisa. Notice the bangs and actually the whole hair style, down to the ribbon, is the same. Here Lisa is reading with a small girl called Elizabeth (the one in the polka-dot dress). I don’t actually remember who Elizabeth’s “parent” model was. It was probably Agnes, my original.

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And I made a lady called Deedra (in the blue hijab):

Blender people in the desert

Here you see Agnes, Elizabeth, Lisa, Ebba, and Deedra all standing together in “Ariana Grande singing about climate change.” No, none of them were meant to have demon eyes.

And here you see a progression of how one character “gives birth” into another:

Blender people progression

On the left, you see Snow-White. Well, Snow-White without black hair. I made her out of Margaret. Notice they have the same skin color, they have the exact same bangs. Snow-White’s mouth is a bit more pouty, maybe. And maybe her cheeks are fuller. Of course, the clothes are also different.

From Snow-White, I made the Hawaiian tree snail scientist who features in “The Desperate Tale of the Last Tree Snail.”  The fringe on the forehead is again a give-away. I changed the features quite a bit, but honestly, it’s not hard. You play just a tiny bit and get someone entirely new.

And finally, I took the tree snail scientist and made the mom that’s in “The grass is not trash.” I removed the bangs and maybe her eyes are a tad bigger.

I’m going to have a whole village soon enough!

blender people photo shoot

 

Of backwards heads and mixed-race couples: Animations with kids

I had two more interesting experiences with “The grass is not trash” worth mentioning …

First, did you notice that the brother has a white girlfriend? When we got to that page of the animation, I myself hadn’t really decided what the girlfriend should look like. So I told the Latina girl I was working, who was responsible for that page, to look at a whole menu of people that I have …

Blender animated people

Oh … never mind. I thought I showed her girls with a variety of skin colors. I, uh … I really think I did! Maybe I just can’t find the right file. But any case, the Latina girl picked the girl in the blue skirt and white ribbon for the girlfriend. The black girl sitting next to her agreed; and then I showed the pick to a group of boys sitting across from us, and they all thought she suited for the girlfriend role, as well.

So that’s how the brother’s girlfriend became white. The Latina girl did the animation with her, and she on purpose made the girlfriend taller than the boyfriend, which I thought was nice. Then, when I went home, I modified her features a little. Here’s the girlfriend in all her glory …

Blender animated people white girlfriendBlender animated people imperfect chin

I changed her hair to red; and I decided it would be healthy if all the characters did not have perfect straight and delicate features; so I gave her a protruding nose and a disappearing chin.

Okie dokie, so I had the girlfriend and a mixed-race couple in the animation. Turns out I also had a girl with her head screwed on backwards … the main character, no less.

This is “Louange”:

Blender animated people

At the beginning of “The grass is not trash”, her head is on right. Note the opening slit on her collar.

Well, right around the middle of the movie, things are looking a little different:

Blender animated people

Yes, in a surprising display of gymnastics and ballet, one of the kids twisted her head all the way around, and I didn’t notice until the last quarter of the film. Yes, her feet were therefore also pointing the wrong way all that time. Yikes.

It was too late to untwist her head, because I would have had to reverse the direction of all her hand and feet movements, everything. So instead, I just twisted her ankles to make her feet point the right way, and I hoped people wouldn’t notice the shirt collar. I felt really bad to be inflicting this kind of bodily pain on the lovely Louange, and I half expect to see her face writhing in torture.

Pretty clothes clashing with science?

I like pretty clothes.

However, in one of my “Animations with kids”, I made a video with the second-graders at MacAllister Elementary called “A handbook to taking care of the earth.” And in that movie, it kind of sets up a conflict between doing good in school/being conscientious versus fashion.

I didn’t want to make it a conflict … so I tried to soften it by adding: “I like pretty clothes, too … but Diana thought about nothing else.” (The boy who narrated that line did such a snarky job of emphasizing Diana, with no pointers from me!)

However, I then went back to the second-graders at Irvin Elementary and showed them all the films I had made at other schools. We also re-watched their own film, “All about butterflies.” They were really into all the films!

But when we watched “Handbook,” and then paused to talk about it afterwards, most of the kids raising their hands told me what they’d learned was: you shouldn’t care about clothes and make-up, you should care about the Earth.

And I got a little muddled and trying to help them distinguish between normal levels of interest in clothes versus complete asceticism versus complete hedonism was beyond me when faced with these lovely little upturned faces. So I didn’t have much more sense than to quickly nod my head and tell the kids they did such a good job for comprehending the lesson of the film. I’m going to try to be a bit more perceptive and careful next time!

animations with kids irvin
Not always the best at thinking on my feet!