Teaching Experience: Stop Motion Animation

This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to teach stop motion animation to 2nd – 3rd grade students at 0MSI!

Note: This was before masks became the standard for children, however we were all 6 ft apart at all times, had health checks every morning, and washed hands frequently!

One of my fondest camp memories are from the animation camp I took one summer, and the short stop motion animation film that I made that week: a snake slithering through the grass, only to be stepping on by an elephant. Making it was a huge source of pride at the time – heck I’m still proud of it, years later!

You see, growing up in my family, animation paid the bills and fueled our imagination. My dad was a trailer editor for Disney, and worked on basically every animated Disney film between 1991 and 2009. This meant that, as children, we got to attend Disney premieres, seeing the movies before our friends and attending over-the-top, themed after parties. Suffice to say, animated movies were a big deal in our family and that meant that, from a very early age, my brother Ben was interested in making them, and brought me along for the ride.

Pocahontas premiere, 1995.

He didn’t have a computer, and certainly not the fantastic iPad apps that are available to kids these days, so he made do with what he did have: our Dad’s camcorder. He’d put me in charge of pressing the record button, while he painstakingly moved his Star Wars action figures, frame by frame, to create elaborate re-creations of his favorite scenes.

This summer I had a couple of kids in my classes who reminded me a lot of Ben. One kid, Rafael, came into the class with strong interest in filmmaking (he’s been making stop motion Lego movies on his iPad for a few years now) and really blew me away with his eye for cinematography, lighting, and storytelling.

We only have two days to ideate, create and film our clay characters. It takes a lot of focus to get it all completed in time!

The equipment that we use in the OMSI classes is top-notch professional equipment and it can seem a little intimidating at first. But, being OMSI, we’ve gotten the curriculum down to a science and kids jump into filmmaking on the very first day.

We use DragonFrame software, which is an excellent tool for creating stop motion animations.

All week long, kids create a series of short films, each of which focuses on learning a different stop motion animation technique. By mid week, we switch gears a bit and start focusing on preparing them for their final film, which is a longer claymation film that they come up with entirely from start to finish. We walked them through the process of storyboarding, set design, and modeling their characters.

This kid Zack was obsessed with Godzilla, and worked so hard to make this clay model, complete with a cityscape featuring a miniature OMSI.

If you’ve never made a stop motion film before, let me tell you, it is exhausting work! For every one second of footage, you need to take 12 distinct frames. It requires an immense amount of patience, especially when you are working against physics to try to make things move naturally.

Like any good learning experience, we have presented the kids with quite a challenge and they are more often than not intrinsically motivated to work really hard to achieve their vision. When kids would get stuck or frustrated, I did my best to help them find creative solutions, or encourage them to take a break and just mess around with clay or colored pencils for a while, to get their creative juices flowing again.

He desperately wanted me to make a “behind-the-scenes” documentary about making of his film. I adored his directorial spirit!

To celebrate all the hard work that they put in to making their films, I came up with the idea of having an awards ceremony at the end of the week. As a class we would watch our final films together, and then we would hold an academy awards celebration, complete with ribbons. To prevent any hurt feelings, I devised an award system that everybody seemed content with. There was one set of awards where I picked what each person will win, and each person would also get to choose what award they would give themselves, and fill in a blank ribbon.

As you can see, I had fun with making oddly specific awards categories.

During the last week of the summer, I decided to try my hand at making a stop motion film of my own, Donkey in a Bowling Alley. In previous weeks, I’d been too busy running around helping every kid with their projects, so it was a fun change of pace to sit down and try it myself that day. The final product is not perfect but I feel the same way about it that I did about my first animation, when I was ten: PROUD!

Combining my two loves: donkeys and bowling.

Published by playfulchildhood

The cool kids call me Teacher Alison. I'm an early childhood educator living in Portland, OR.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: