First viewing party – Butterfly story

It was really nice!


The kids in the two classrooms said their movie was ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’, ‘terrific’, etc, etc. This was all in front of their parents.

I was really happy with the number of parents who showed. In one of the classrooms, there were like 10! I got surveys from each and every one. What I forgot to do was to ask for their email addresses, so I can keep sending them future videos. But that time will come. I’ll remember next time.

My first partner teacher was so amazing. She was the one who’d written a note to the parents and gotten so many of them to come. Then she gave me a little present at the end 🙂

And I had presents, too, for the kids. The Walt Disney Family Museum had sent them little souvenirs – bookmarks, pencils, postcards. It was great. The only thing with the postcards is all the characters on them are exclusively white. So I am going to use the more landscape-y scenes and figure out what to do with the character postcards.

post cards from the Walt Disney Family Museum
Post cards from the Walt Disney Family Museum

I also made certificates for the kids:

Animation certificates

Do they look bad? The blue/yellow/pink/green shapes that were glued on – I’ve been lugging those around for about 5 or 6 years. They were from some event in the Chesapeake Bay, when I used to work there. I don’t even remember what the event was, but they had cut out all those designs so nicely, and I felt so bad about seeing a whole lot of left-overs all tossed in the trash. So I grabbed them and have finally found a good use for them.

The ‘great job’ stickers I got from Staples. They were in the clearance bins for 75 cents or something, and there were like 72 stickers in each packets. And this is the Staples attached to the mall to which I can take the bus or walk, so I felt really good and resourceful.

And I felt wonderful after the viewings – like we really had done something good and meaningful. I kind of flew into this whole project more on gut instinct, rather than as part of a carefully considered career pathway. But it’s been pretty cool. I feel really entrepreneurial. It’s a nice feeling. I feel like we’re doing something fresh and nice.

The film itself – well, I think next time I’m going to have to do something with the flipping pages. It makes me dizzy to have them fly past all the time. But other than that, I thought the caterpillar scrunching itself along was super cute. And the drawings and everything looked so good. And the kids’ animations are just lovely! And so are their voices.

Here it is: “All About Butterflies!”

So that’s one film down, 5 more to go!

Other animation software

I’ve heard of AfterEffects, and it just struck me I should search for some material that shows what exactly this software can do. I found this video on YouTube, it was pretty cool.

It looks like AfterEffects doesn’t do the exact sort of 3D computer animation that you can pursue through Blender. But on the other hand, this AfterEffects video shows lots of techniques that I don’t know personally how to do in Blender; and I’m not sure if some of them can be done. I’ll have to look into it.

It’s pretty interesting because some of the animation techniques I just saw are things I would like to incorporate, especially the ones where things look old and frayed. Now, I don’t have the money to be using AfterEffects, so I’m going to look into if there are free similar programs. Any thoughts?

Update: Found another AfterEffects video. I don’t like it though. I know it looks slick and cool and sophisticated, but that style of animation, where things are bobbing and sliding and everything is smooth and acts like it knows it all, seems so dull. The pictures don’t even really match up to what the person is saying. It’s too corporate!

How to make a crescent moon in Blender

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but I googled “crescent moon in Blender”, and there wasn’t a whole lot of help. There was one tutorial that purported to show how to make a full moon, with all the craters on the surface. I’m not sure if it actually does because I didn’t watch to the end of it. I didn’t want a full moon, just a beautiful crescent moon with a soft, otherworldly glow.

And another video showed how to make a crescent, all right, but it’s a very ancient version of Blender, and I don’t think those same controls exist.

So then I googled, how to make a crescent in blender (didn’t mention ‘moon’), and this explanation of how to use the “bend” tool showed up. I’m not exactly sure all the mechanics of it, but I pressed shift+w and then played around with where the red cursor and my mouse cursor were located. And low and behold, my flat sphere started doing very strange things, and then all of a sudden it looked like this:

moon 1

Which is a kind of ugly and doughy looking moon, but at least I had the shape.

Now, I wanted a beautiful pearly glow to my moon, but all the tutorials I found on this topic were in the “Cycles” mode of Blender. This is the more powerful mode that gives you more realistic images. I don’t usually use it, having less familiarity with it and usually getting by without it, anyways. But, my beautiful moon demanded it!

This meant I had to do some things over. I had to color things back in according to the Cycles dictates. I first looked up how to make my Earth have the proper texture, or image, plastered over it, that is to say, how would I unwrap a texture in Blender cycles mode.

Then I figured out how to add stars in the background, thus replacing the simple image of stars I’d been using before. It worked great, and the guy doing the tutorial is Norwegian, haha.


That picture’s a bit dark, so I took away all other lights from the background and from the images, and increased the strength of the sun.

moon 3

Now for the moon itself. Still prowling after an unearthly glow. I really like this tutorial-maker called Sardis Pax, so I went to his “Dark Tower” tutorial. About four minutes in, he shows how to making a glowing light atop his dark tower. However, even though he makes very interesting scenes, as ever his methods are very complicated and I got lost.

Searched for other tutorials, went through about five of them. Unfortunately, I got lost with all of them, and after about four hours I finally realized that the “glow” these tutorials are promising isn’t going to help me anyways. Their glow was something you edit into just a SINGLE image. It was not a glow you’d add into the many images needed for an animation. So that didn’t help. At least I used the ‘compositor’ for the first time ever and kind of know what its purpose is, now, although I didn’t really even want to know.

So I went back to the complicated ‘Dark Tower’ tutorial, got lost again, and now I’m super fed up, because all of a sudden, after all that work, I finally stumbled upon a quick and easy tutorial that does the glow without requiring Cycles. I didn’t even stumble across just one of these, I stumbled across a couple. So I went into the more complicated and taxing version of Blender for nothing. Except even this ‘easy-to-make’ glow isn’t going to work exactly right for me. All the tutorials show the glow happening from a ball against a wall, so the glow shows up and looks soft and cozy. My glow is just enervating out into the emptiness of space, so I don’t think it’s the same.

I had to re-do everything in the simple version, and figure out how to put stars back in, and I’m sorry, but the glow looks really dumb and silly. Oh, and not just that, but it makes the girl and the earth glow, too. So much for the beautiful effervescence I thought I’d attain.

moon in blender with glow

This is the most ridiculous moon ever made.

Animations With Kids – Butterflies

After a slow start getting in touch with teachers, my Animations With Kids project is on a roll. I think.

It needs a better title, though.

I almost have finished up with the first classroom at Irvin Elementary, and am already started with the second. Next week, I’m going to begin with 3 new classrooms at a new school (new to me; the school is actually quite old and established, I think) in Concord.

The new school
My new school!

On Monday and Tuesday, I visited my latest classroom. They are going to do the other half of the butterfly story.

Monday’s was a really good session. I felt like the kids were hanging on to every word I told them, and the whole class was absorbed. It was a great feeling.

Alert kids looking at satellite images.

I showed them these two satellite images of Concord, NC, comparing 1985 to 2011.

concord 1985
Concord in 1985
concord 2011
Concord in 2011

You can see the great amount of development, especially on the western side of 2011. You can see the race-track, which has been around since 1985. The great blob that joins it in 2011, just to the northwest, is Concord Mills (Concord Mills was built around 2000-ish).

When I showed the class these images, at least half the class had their hands high in the air, wanting to ask, “what’s that glare on the first image,” or trying to convince us that the orange spots in the 1985 image are fall leaf colors.

“But that image is from the summer,” I explained.

“Then maybe it’s flowers? Oh, oh, it’s actually the butterflies.”

So I had to explain about how far in space a satellite is, and that it can’t see things as small as flowers and butterflies.

There were 18 kids in the class, and at least 10 were hanging out of their seat, trying to answer every question I asked. Super! They liked getting up, walking to the front of the class, and pointing to something or other on the images on the screen that they had a question about.

But then I went back on Tuesday, and things were a little less organized. My fault. First, I was late. Yikes. Well, I was like 20 minutes early the day before, so I think somewhere in my mind I thought it would all balance out. I was wrong.

I showed them “Mr. Turtle Gets Sick,” which by the way, has now surpassed 600 views – oh, the popularity – and that part went great. I had kids literally staring at the screen with their mouths open. This way, they have a model to follow for the butterfly story.


Watching Mr. Turtle Gets Sick

Then I was to give each kid a slip of paper from the butterfly story. And even though I had carefully been intending, that morning, to slice up the remaining pages to ensure there was enough for each kid, I apparently had zoned out at the last minute of my preparations, and I didn’t realize it until I passed out slips and came up 3 short. For some reason, just at that moment, all these kids who knew enough to ask bright questions and chime in with all sorts of information, became suddenly incapacitated! “I don’t know what to draw! Can you help me read this?”

Of course, they couldn’t ask me these questions by raising their hands from their seats. Instead, I had a whole posse surrounding me everywhere I went, calling out questions, or just wanting to tell me about the dead turtle they’d seen on the beach, all this while I was trying to figure out which kids didn’t have a slip yet, and how I was going to conjure slips for them. I ended up giving one of the girls the task of drawing the title page, and then I cut apart two of the pages with the most words to split them into separate ones.

Did the uproar subside then? Hardly. It felt like every kid wanted me to check their drawing after every new stroke. And one kid just smeared a bunch of blue and green and brown on her page, and marched up to confidently tell me that she was finished. This led me to remind them (a little later, so the kid wouldn’t realize she was the target) that all this is going to end up on YouTube and do they want sloppy, ugly work on YouTube? I probably shouldn’t have used the word “ugly”, I think I took them aback.

So that girl re-did her drawing, into something much, much nicer. One kid colored in some of his tree bark with brown, but not the others. So I gave him a hint about that. The same kid was supposed to be drawing a landscape that had been shorn of wild places for butterfly habitat, and he instead drew flowers and trees. I tried to gently nudge him through that. One kid wanted to figure out how he could draw green trees to stand out if there was a hill of green grass right behind the trees. Well. His drawing turned out amazing, actually. And something that was really sweet is how many of the more careful and steady young artists in the room would help the less coordinated kids in sketching their drawings and giving them ideas.

So it was a bit of a crazy day. Quite the contrast from Monday. I didn’t quite feel any more that, “oh, I’ve got all this in the bag!” I hope the teacher is not second-guessing having me in the class!

New school project

Not too long ago, I grumbled on here about how no teacher wanted me to come to their class and do a free project with them. I am adept at grumbling, so why hold back if you’re good at something? And besides, I can’t just write about when I’m full of hopes and everything is working out.

Not too many days after I wrote that post, I got some good news. First, the teacher I wrote was a “maybe” for hosting me became a “yes”! I met her, and she was really nice, and I explained the whole project to her, and she loved it! She’s a second grade teacher, here:

IMG_20181005_164634 edit

It’s a school literally in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina. I drive there (no public transportation in these parts) from the middle of nowhere, North Carolina, so we are all in good company. The road by this school is “Irish Potato Road”, if that helps picture the setting.

I’m really really happy. I can’t wait to see some little kiddies and listen to the strange and wonderful things they have to say about their understanding of the world.

When I met with the teacher, she filled me in on her side of things: she can’t just say yes to projects right away, she has to check with the principal. And even though this project is chock-full of reading, computers, math, creativity, we still have to be very clear about how it’s aligning with the second-grade curriculum. The science topic we choose for the story can’t just be any science topic, it has to align with the 5 approved science units in the North Carolina second grade curriculum.

We talked about that, and I think we came up with a really good topic – something that local scientists have been dealing with, so hopefully we’ll be able to invite some of them as guest speakers, too!

I did learn a lesson: the silence I received from many of the teachers to my email queries maybe weren’t because they didn’t like the project, maybe it was just too difficult for them to see how it would fit in? Maybe they’re too busy to deal with something like this. I don’t know.

A second teacher at a different school had also emailed back, interested, but she needed to “check with the administration”. I expected never to hear again, but she did get back to me after all, and her administration cleared it. I’m going to work with all three second grade classes at that school. We originally said we’d start in January, but I hope we’re going to be able to push it up to November, instead.

And a third teacher at a third school emailed back, and she said I could work with all five fifth grade classes! But when I emailed her back to set up a time to meet, I never heard again. So that one I am still working on.

But this very exciting! And I know I wrote recently too about how much I hate writing grants. I need those grants to pay for the laptop to be used with all these kids making animations, and it would also be nice to get money to pay for my transportation to all these schools, and, you know – I’m not working or anything, so it would be nice to receive some money for my time working with all these classes. Well, I maybe am going to have some good news from that corner, as well. I’ve had good news, and bad news, as far as submitting grants go, and the bad news was all definite and very heart-breaking, and the good news was all tentative. So I won’t say anything more until things have solidified. But if things do solidify, I am going to parachute into the sky with glee!!

more fun stuff in Blender

I already wrote about easy panning and zooming in Blender, and now I’ve learned how to shorten the image on the screen so you can, for example, put a black bar of captions at the bottom. And I just now realized I can even rotate photos!

In this miserable time of hopelessness and evil, this is bringing me some joy.

And the ‘poor people’ part is sarcasm, by the way.

I got wind of how to do this using this post from Blender Stack Exchange.



How to pan and zoom in Blender

When you’re making an animation, you actually have to “render” each frame of the film.

So for example, this little snippet ….

is actually composed of lots of images like this, all strung together and flipped through:

It’s a super nice way of getting things done, but the process of getting your computer to “render” out each of this little images is no easy feat, especially when you maybe have to render out 20,000 images; maybe the animation you’re making is 16 minutes long, so that’s 16*60 seconds total, and EACH second will customarily require 24 rendered images.

In other words, each second of film is actually 24 images being flipped through quickly to make motions seem seamless. That’s how you can quickly get to thousands and thousands of images needed for even a short film.

I had always thought that if I wanted to zoom in on, say, a girl in a blue dress, I would therefore have to render a couple hundred images of the camera getting progressively closer to the little girl.

But! it struck me that surely Blender would have an easier way of doing this, without having to render each step of the way. Yesterday, I found this tutorial, and it explained all about how to do it!

This will make a lot of things easier!

Parchment scroll in Blender 3D

I wanted to make something that looked like a constitution:


That was what I came up with. I like it. However, while making an animation, the thing mysteriously unraveled and I couldn’t figure out how to stop it. I thought, no biggie, I’ll delete it and make another. Well! I was using this tutorial and for some reason, on my second time around, my piece of parchment wouldn’t curl properly at the top until I did and re-did the tutorial about 7 times, no exaggeration. Blender’s just like that.

But overall, it’s a pretty simple and straight-forward tutorial, and it’s only 5 minutes long. In case you want to make your own parchment scroll.