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.

Animations with kids: do the kids actually learn anything?

The main idea of “Animations with kids” is that the kids learn some science in a friendly, storytelling way.

So when I was writing the story for “Mr. Glump and the poisonous pond“, I had hopes that the second-graders, and anyone watching the film, would come away knowing exactly how algae kills fish: that when the algae dies, it sinks into the water, decomposes, and the process of decomposition sucks so much oxygen out of the water that when the fish “breathe” through their gills, there’s nothing for them to breathe in.

Except that’s not exactly how it turned out. When we’d finished the movies at McAllister, I visited each classroom to show them their movie (before the parent party) and to have them take a survey and get their feedback. After we watched the “Mr. Glump” movie, I would ask: So, tell me what the movie said: how does the algae kill the fish?

And these were the answers I got:

They eat it and it’s poison! No…

It smothers them! No….

They had quite a few theories, and the exact mechanism with the algae decomposing was just lost on them, it seemed. I was a little bummed. So all that work and they hadn’t learned what their own movie was trying to explain??

But then I told my partner teacher about it, and he said: at certain ages, kids just aren’t developmentally ready to grasp certain concepts. They might not understand exactly how the algae kills fish … but they will be able to remember: algae is bad; spraying stuff into water is bad.

That made me feel a little better.

Watching kids watch each other’s animations

I made “Mr. Turtle Gets Sick” with a class of second-graders in Chapel Hill 4 and a half years ago.

And every time I go into a new classroom, those kids watch “Mr. Turtle”, too, so they have an idea of what this project is like.

It makes me really happy to think that after all these years, the messages from those first set of kids are still being heard. My audiences are always so engrossed! And the movies from all these new classes will hopefully be used as models in my future classes.

In fact, I already had my fifth-graders at Wolf Meadow watch the two animations (Mr. Glump and Handbook to caring for the Earth) the second-graders at McAllister made. They laughed, they leaned forwards … okay, some just kept on drawing and whispering through the movies, too, but they were still pretty interested!

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Kids in Concord, plus some of their parents, watching “Mr. Turtle gets sick”, which the kids in Chapel Hill made. Mind you, they’re watching it now for the third time and still full of interest!
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The fifth-graders in Wolf Meadow watching the animations made by the second-graders at McAllister

Animations with kids and old Eurovision songs

I’ve had a song from the 1989 Eurovision stuck in my head. As I was editing/fixing/polishing/rendering the animations for McAllister Elementary, I listened to it on repeat, as I do, making handy use of the YouTube refresh button.

It was still on my computer when I dashed to McAllister the very day before our viewing party. When I’d been at the school the week before to show each class of second-graders their film and have them do a survey, I discovered that I had missed a kid! The idea for this project is that every child in class contributes a page to the animation, but this kid had joined one of the class in the middle of January, after we’d done all the full-class lessons, and I’d never gotten wind of it. Luckily, I caught him at the last minute, and that was why I was back at McAllister the day before the viewing party.

He was such a cute, sweet, confiding kid, so as I was setting up my laptop, the still-live YouTube page with the Eurovision song was still up, and I asked the kid if he wanted to listen to it. He said yes. He liked it!

Animating with kids: the home stretch

I am finished animating with all the kids I’m suppose to animate with, for now. I can’t believe it.

And something so nice happened on my very last day. I was back at Wolf Meadow. Let me back up … there’s no good ending as far as Anna goes, unfortunately¬† …¬† I just never animated with her.

But, on that last day, I finally got to animate with Leah. She did a great job, and as she finished up, she chanced to see my desktop wallpaper as I was flipping between programs. The picture is one of me and the baby that the neighbors next-door had in Chapel Hill. “Is that your son?” Leah asked.

No, I told her, it was just my neighbors, and then I thought I’d show her some more pictures of them, and as luck would have it, as I searched through my pictures I happened right upon the folder wherein I have an album of the times I took those same neighboring kids on tours of the University in Chapel Hill. I had like 80 photos – of the Old Well, of the funny chairs they’d placed outside the Campus Y, looking out the top floor of Davis Library; when we ate at Alpine Bagel, when one of the girls posed with the photo of Malala in the Union, when we went to the big Science Day they have every April and we took pictures with butterflies and brains and took a swing through the MakerSpace in Murray. Ah, I’m feeling nostalgic!

Then I asked Leah, so what do you want to do when you grow up? and she told me, and then I asked if she’d thought college, and then I blabbed out any encouraging words that came to mind (but I don’t think I came up with anything other than the trite, hackneyed things to say) and that was that. But what a nice ending for me and Leah after we started with ignomy!

Can’t understand fifth-graders

I’m working with fifth-graders, and they are quite beyond my comprehension.

There was this girl called … well, let’s call her Anna. She’s a goofy girl. She spent the first class I was with them with her head down or in her arms the whole time nearly. Now she’s opened up a bit and she can’t go two seconds without whispering and giggling and making some sort of reaction to every thing I say as I stand before the class and teach. And how am I supposed to know if her reaction is in sympathy or in hostility? Her guffaws and giggles leave a lot of room for interpretation. Is she really bored? Is she testing my (non-existent) discipline? Does she like me and she felt comfortable enough to joke around, not realizing that doesn’t work when you’re trying to teach a whole group something (obviously, I hope for the latter.)

Except now she really doesn’t like me. This particular classroom has very bad lighting. The other schools I’ve been in must have way newer technology: even when all the overhead lights are on, the kids and I can see see my laptop screen, with Blender open on it, projected onto the SmartBoard with no difficulty. In this new school, even when all the lights are OFF, my screen of Blender on the SmartBoard nevertheless persists in being gray-tinted and dull. So we decided that instead of me teaching all 25 or so kids about animation basics at once, we instead would split the class up into two. I’d only teach about 10 at a time, and there would be enough room for them to sit on the carpet up close to the board to see. The other half of the class was to sit quietly (ahahahahahahahaha) in the back and build stuff with Legos until it was time to switch.

They were not quiet in the least, and I’m the sort of person who can’t really hear myself think if I’m trying to teach and there’s lots of distractions. I mean, it was really noisy. And me getting flustered, I kept getting messed up in my lesson and explaining things the wrong way. My 10 kids on the carpet before me, all of them too were whispering and giggling, and Anna was the worst. Or was she? She was the only black girl sitting up front. And she’s unfortunately really good at drawing attention to herself, and I spent the whole time wondering – is my perception even true, or is it just because she’s a black girl who won’t sit still that I’m singling her out as the worst? My lesson was going to the dogs, and I was exhausted trying to manage with all the noise in the background plus the fidgets right in front of me – yes, exhausted, I tell you, after 10 minutes! Plus, the room being all dark except for the glaring glow of the SmartBoard made me feel claustrophobic. Plus, I’m teaching them computer animation for crying out loud! Can’t they sit still for that?

Then Anna slung herself over. She actually just slung herself back on her elbows, but I reacted before that, during a split second when I actually thought she was going to lie down.

“Anna!” I said very sharply. “Sit up.”

She did not. I waited a second. I suspected that she was in that confused spot where she doesn’t want to be the “bad kid” but neither does she want to acquiesce and allow herself to be bossed around by me. So I kept moving with the lesson. She sat up as soon as I moved on. But you know, any hope I could have had of building trust with her or inspiring her into anything is probably over.

Shortly thereafter, so exhausted was I that I just plopped myself into a chair and declared I couldn’t go on. The kids looked both confused and nonchalant.

Today when I went back to teach the second class of fifth-graders, we did the whole class all at once. Ten kids sat on the carpet, the rest sat on the nearest chairs. I think most of them could see, after all. We got through the lesson. Still quite a lot of fidgets starting around 20 minutes in! But more manageable because there wasn’t all the background noise to distract us, I could hear myself think, and we had the whole class time, rather than just half of it, to do a thorough and proper lesson on using Blender.

Next week, I’ll go back and try to teach the first classroom, again. Whole group this time. I’m kind of nervous what happens with Anna.

Update: it was a great lesson! but Anna was absent!