Fruit Animation
An introduction to animation for Year 8

After eighteen years in Television's animation industry, I returned to my Fine Art roots and started a PGCE in Art and Design at Canterbury Christ Chuch in September.

My animation knowledge was seen as an exciting quality by tutors, and I was keen to show my peer group of students what was achievable with basic equipment in a workshop that I ran.

My first placement was at Hillview School for Girls, Tonbridge. I was introduced to their Animation club and showed the pupils examples of my work. I made a few internal enquiries regarding available equipment and facilities, and in addition to it's extensive music recording facility, discovered that the school benefited from brand new video / audio editing kit in their media department.

Heads of departments were keen on projects that would encourage ICT usage and I saw that animation was a perfect tool to offer. As I got to know my way around the school, I received more support from senior staff. The cross-departmental benefits were also simple to see, animation material could either be drawn or built (Art and Design), filmed (Drama), composited / edited (ICT / Media) and an original audio track could be added by the Music department.

Unfortunately Hillview had no specialist animation software to speak of, but their media department had plenty of video cameras. As the school is a Performing Arts school, it also has a large theatre studio complete with lighting rig for performances, which we were able to use for filming purposes. The drama technician was a great help and supportive throughout the project.

The choice of subject matter was inspired by the Healthy Eating campaign that was being outlined by the Display Technician. The campaign had been to promote fruit instead of crisps as the choice snack between meals. Co-incidently, year 8 pupils had also been working on self-portraits made in relief with fruit and foliage borders (in the style of Della Robbia).

As a great fan of Peter Gabriel, I felt it was time show a new generation of girls one of the best music videos of all time "Sledgehammer" .

They were mesmerized as I explained how each section was shot onto tape without computers, years before they were born. We then discussed what we would be able to produce in a similar manner bearing in mind the time restraints.

The thirty members of the club agreed that if we could choose a girl to be in the middle of a landscape of revolving fruit, it would provide a great centrepiece for the campaign as well as getting a new club project under way.

Over the following weeks the animation club built and decorated a low table with a hole cut in it for a pupil's head to fit through.

We held an audition as each pupil was photographed in order to decide who would "star" in the piece, looking for a natural mime for pulling expressive faces.

After working out that the filming part of the process had to fit into part of a lunch hour, I set to work planning what and how we would animate in the time. A second of screen time is normally made up of 25 frames of film / video, and as we were only likely to shoot about a second in the 40 minutes available, it was essential that the material "looped" sufficiently.

The rest of the club were responsible for supplying the fruit that they would then animate frame by frame around the pupil's as her eyes revolved around her. The table was set up on the morning of the shoot, and the Drama technician lit the set before fixing a camera high up in the rig above.

Due to an oversight, the table's legs were too long, so the poor girl had to lie on an assortment of cushions to bring her head up to the required level. The suspended camera was triggered by remote control by the technician and in-between each frame that was shot each of the remaining girls moved around the table methodically and moved their piece of fruit as they went.

The single second burst of jpeg frames was then saved onto disc before I adjusted the sequence at home in the animation package "Flash" made by Macromedia. The suppliers of professional software are offering "educational licences" for incredibly cheap rates. Most schools already have the hardware required and in an age where all things ICT are being pushed to the fore-front, animation is the ideal tool to introduce pupils to the creative side of computers. Flash or Paint Shop Pro both allow the importing and manipulation of digital photographs.

Apart from the digital camera, secure tripod and Flash, the only resource you need for the simplest of animations, is some objects to move around, some pupils to move them and a lot of patience. The main tip I'd give would be to start small. Do not start with anything more than a "loop" of action (finishes where it starts).

Having a pupil as a centre figure not only adds a human element, but adds a sense of scale to proceedings.

Although Flash looks quite a complicated piece of software I would advise teachers to just use it as a replaying mechanism to start with, then add levels of drawing when more confident.

I wrote out a work-sheet for my peer group at Canterbury, explaining the technique in the shortest number of "clicks" which I would be happy to pass on to anyone wanting to try it out.

My wife was amazed to hear me being over critical at the result as she viewed it, and pointed out that although I would always look at work with a professional eye, the kids would love it, despite any flaws.

She was right of course, when the club met the following week I showed the pupils two versions of the material, one "warts and all" and another that I'd edited and added extra graphical effects to.

They loved both equally because the great expressions and spent the rest of the meeting discussing the prospect of painting her face blue, gelling her hair into spikes and pushing a banana through her ear…..

Andy Dixon is a PGCE student who starts his NQT year at Fort Pitt Grammar School, Chatham in July, where (in addition to Art) he will be teaching Animation at Key Stage 3 !

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