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.

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!