The girl who turned her back

“I never met a child who didn’t like this project.” This is what I tell everyone when describing making science animations with kids.

Until last week, when this girl we’ll call Leah turned up with an attitude for her session with me. As we have been progressing quickly along, I was already at the stage where I sit with each student for about 15 minutes, sometimes more, and watch and prompt them as they animate their section of the movie on my laptop. I had taught them the animation lesson the week before, and yet … the very first student to have a go at it had been a little unsure; she seemed to have forgotten everything.

So it flashed upon me that why not, as one student is animating, have the student next-in-line to sit beside us and watch, so as to just help refresh how the Blender3D program works ahead of that next student’s turn. Because I really wasn’t looking forward to re-explaining and hand-holding to every single student.

One doing, the other watching
New configuration: One doing, the other watching!

I thought it was a great idea, but it hit an immediate snag. Flush with my decision, I looked at my list, and lo – the next student in order was Leah. “Leah! Come sit with us.”

Leah was engrossed in a computer game.

Called her again; asked her to hurry up (still being friendly). Leah actually starts complaining out-loud. That was my first sense of annoyance. Excuse me – I did not come all the way to your school to teach you 3D animation and make a movie with, only for you to complain about it. Never happened before!

The teacher induces Leah to come over; Leah slams down on an extra chair. I tell her to get back up while I maneuver it into position just behind the kid who’s working in front of my laptop; this adjustment was apparently a big shock to Leah’s system. The teacher comes over and tries to console her. Leah now has a very hurt look on her face, and out sticks her lower lip as though she’s going to cry. She’s not even looking at the screen or paying attention when I glance back at her, so I give her a little prompt. This is another too-great shock to Leah’s system, and she heaves herself in her chair so as to turn her back towards me and the laptop and the other kid!

And at this point — at this point, a few years ago, and back when I was teaching in Philadelphia, I might have felt really sad and like I needed to sooth Leah and explain to her just what we’re doing and why it’s so cool and get her cooperation. But apparently, I am way different these days, because I lost my patience and ordered Leah back to her seat. I can’t believe my daring! I didn’t even really care. I was just like, whatever, girlfriend, you don’t want to be here, then don’t waste my time.

Instead, I called the next kid after Leah up and had him watch. And I skipped right over Leah’s section of the animation, and went on with all the other kids.

As soon as Leah was dismissed, she went back to her teacher, to complain again – not sure what about this time! All I caught was, “I was sitting there and she told me to go back…” And then as I flew through animating with student after student, Leah would sometimes come back and take a look at the screen. I ignored her. Then, after lunch, when I was back with her classroom, she comes up and says: “when’s it going to be my turn?” I told her flatly, “you already had your turn.” “No, I didn’t…”

Yesterday, I saw a tweet that said: we don’t have good attitudes every day. So why should we expect our students to have good attitudes every day?

Very true, very good point. But I don’t think Leah needs any coddling or any soothing from me. Can’t believe I was less than kind, understanding, forgiving, and soothing towards a kid but certainly had a better outcome in the change of her attitude than otherwise.

Making a snail in Blender

I poked around some online examples and tutorials.

This snail was super cute and ended up being my inspiration! Can’t get any cuter.

And then this was a nice and straight-forward tutorial for making the spiral shell, which I stuck on top of the snail.

snail
snail in Blender3D

He’s a little lop-sided and one-eyed, and after all, that shell on his back looks kind of unappetizing, but that’s what I have so far.

This is the snail that goes with the animation I’m making with one of the fifth-grade classes at Wolf Meadow, who are doing a great job animating so far. Yes, we have already started animating – can’t believe it’s gone so fast!

A film with different speeds

A few months ago, I was trying to create a film of various images and clips of footage. However, all the footage was in various speeds – some in 6 frames per second (is that speed a crime in the film world?) and some in 30 frames per second. So when I added in the 30 frames per second bits, it was in super slow motion.

Today, the issue came up again, but I searched a bit and I figured out how to get around this in Blender’s video sequence editor. I’m pretty happy to have discovered this! And it was super easy, ALTHOUGH I messed it up the first couple of times.

It also took me a few times searching to find the simple solution (for my case). I found this stack exchange Q&A, from which this was the important tip (the tip was actually in the question being asked) …

The method I have been using, up until now, is to import all the movie strips. Then set the frame rate for the project to 30f/s and on the 120f/s strips, add a speed control effect strip, to change the speed to that of the audio.

So I learned about the whole speed control thing, lovely!

Still took me a while to get it to work right. You think you’ve done it right, but then you add a ‘transform’ strip and it messes up. Or you try to edit down your video, not for the sake of speed control but because you want to chop a piece of it off, and it messes up again. This speed control has to be done with tender gloves.

I found some tutorials to help out, but they were both super annoying! One of them, you couldn’t hear the audio. The other had to give a whole introduction and blab on before he got to the point. But when he finally got around to it, I was able to see a demonstration of how the speed control works.

Video editing

Usually, I make animations, so I just have the rendered images all in a row, and then a single audio file –  somewhat chopped up, but still coming from a single file.

But a few months ago, I made more of a traditional “movie” made up of single images, bits of videos, and lots of added text. It seems to be the new ‘trend’ for ‘granting agencies’ to now require you – that is “highly encourage” – to include a video in your application submission. It’s not because they’re going to choose you – oh, heavens, no – they just want to get the satisfaction of making you do more work for nothing.

Well, any case, this was what my video editing sequencer ended up looking like:

video sequencer.JPG

Pretty interesting to see that outcome! The turquoise is the audio; the black at the bottom is a black background for any blank space; the purple is various mages; the gold is text; and the green is to changes the sizes of the images. I forget what the blue is for, though!

This is the sequencer in Blender, by the way.

Groups hugs, nose-pickers, and racism – the highs and lows of Animations with Kids

I’ve been teaching animation basics to the three classes at McAllister Elementary. I’m able to walk to the school – 30 minutes, each way, it’s really nice. There’s an ice cream shop on the way. And a new shop that sells baked goods and chips and sandwiches and stuff.

When the last class came in the library and saw me, they all squealed, and half of them ran up to me and gave me a hug. They all tried to jostle for the best position, or waited for their own turn to say, “she’s mine!”, or called out, “group hug, group hug.” Goodness. I’m rarely that popular.

We did our lesson. Because this was my third day in a row teaching the same thing, I was getting pretty good and had the flow down, had tweaked and improved how I was explaining things to the kids.

Animations with kids lesson
Making the cardinal move

I demonstrated how Blender works uses a cardinal bird that I made – it’s a good choice because it’s the state bird of North Carolina. When I ask the kids if they know what the bird is, the first one always guesses “robin.” And I tell them, “no.” So the second one guesses, “a red robin.” But the third then guesses cardinal.

cardinal4

For the second half of the lesson, I have the kids come up one by one and maneuver the cardinal around themselves. They pick a spot on the movie number line, and then they either make the cardinal “go”, or rotate it, or change the size. After all 15 kids have done something, the end result is pretty cute:

With my first class at McAllister, we had time for every kid to give it a try. With the second class, two boys were naughty and kept blurting out. So the librarian took them aside, and I skipped them. And for the third class – well, I ran into a problem, quickly, because two little kids were picking their noses like the WHOLE time I was teaching them. They weren’t really trying to hide it, even. And I didn’t exactly want them to touch my laptop. And I didn’t want to tell them, hey, it’s because you’re picking your nose. You don’t want to crush a child in that way.

But I remembered the class the day before when not every kid got to animate at the end. I figured I could swing things so that by the end of the class, we’d just “run out of time” before we got to the nose-pickers. Of course, I’m learning more and more that “running out of time” – as long as the kids aren’t being chaotic – is very much under my control. I can just come up with things to talk about, things to show them.

Problem was, one of the nose-pickers at least was a very sweet girl who was being very quiet and patient and kept raising her hand to get a turn at my laptop. I felt pretty bad about that.

Two kids were being loud and obnoxious. One of them was a Black boy, and he wouldn’t stop talking. The other was a white girl and she wouldn’t stop talking either, but I swear, I think because she was an innocent-looking red-head, I must have over-looked her obnoxiousness. She kept raising her hand and asking in a most sad and mournful way, “when are you going to pick me???” So towards the end, I did – and I didn’t call on the Black boy. And I regretted it because at the very end of class, she and the Black boy – who were sitting side by side – were cutting up again. And only one of them had felt the consequences of it. I felt really really bad and I’m realizing when I only have a few seconds to make these judgment calls, there must be racism that’s lurking in the background and making the decisions for me, to an extent. It’s not a good feeling to walk away with.

At the very, very end – because I still needed an excuse not to call on my nose-pickers – and I felt even worse that the obnoxious red-head got a turn when the nice and quiet nose-picker did not – I decided to show the kids an animation. I showed them “All About Butterflies” that I just finished with Irvin Elementary. This way, they could both appreciate what their neighboring second-graders had done, and get a sense for what they’re about to do. Unfortunately, the kids were pretty riled up by that point and they didn’t really watch, they just sat and made comments. I was sitting behind them, and trying to point out: look, that’s a rotation, and other pointers. I didn’t really catch what the kids were saying. I did sense that the comments were not exactly very laudatory.

Finally, the librarian marched forwards and put an end to the movie-watching and the kids’ giggles. “Boys and girls! I am so angry right now. I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry with a group of boys and girls. I cannot believe what I’m hearing. How dare you all make fun of the movie? Would you all like it if you all had worked hard on something, and then another class watched it and made fun of it?”

Immediate silence. I had also turned the movie off.

“Folks, I can handle you all talking and saying things, but what I cannot tolerate is you all making fun of other people’s work. This has given me a whole new opinion about this group of boys and girls which is going to be very, very hard for me to let go of! Who worked very hard on that butterfly movie?”

It was only then it occurred to me that indeed, the talking during the movie hadn’t been very nice to the second-graders who had made it! But I have a tendency to take things personally. So if someone makes fun of my work, my first instinct is to think: oh, yeah, it’s not really that good. Oh, what should I have done to make it better? All while trying to hide that I was mad at being made fun of.

Silence from the kids. So the librarian again: who in this room worked very hard on this movie?

The kids pointed to me.

“And who else worked hard on this movie?”

“The other second-graders.”

“That’s right. The second-graders at Irvin. How rude is it for you all to make fun of them. I was waiting for one of you to say: stop making fun, this isn’t nice. And not one of you did …” And it went on like that. The class’ teacher in the meantime had come in and was apprised of the situation.

“Oh my word!” she said.

The kids turned around. “How did you get in here without us noticing?” But she put her finger to her mouth.

And now both the librarian and the teacher were giving the kids a lecture, and finally the teacher said: “Rude! That’s the word for it. It’s not even disrespect, I’m just glad you used that work, ‘rude’, because that’s what it is, and that’s what we should call it.”

Whew! So the day started with me getting hugs from everyone and everyone running at me with big smiles, and it ended like that. I have another tendency that when someone is ‘rude’ to me, my default is to think it’s my fault. I must have done something to cause them to be that rude. So in a most contrary way, it was actually after the librarian started lecturing the kids that I started to feel bad – like I started to feel that I had messed up, or been foolish. So the day didn’t end all that great.

But I can say, and I have seen it again and again with the teachers I have worked with – wow, what great souls we have in our schools. Really, we don’t deserve them.

 

First viewing party – Butterfly story

It was really nice!

IMG_20181217_134829

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!