Friday, July 6, 2018

Kids Observe and Anim8Nature

Anim8Nature Workshop at Claytor Nature Study Center

Milkweed at Claytor
Last week I had the great pleasure of working with students during a summer camp session at Claytor Nature Center of the University of Lynchburg, located in Bedford, Virginia. It was a fabulous opportunity to combine direct experience in nature with an exploration of natural phenomena using art and animation.

Getting Acquainted

I met with the students in a classroom at Claytor to introduce myself and give them an overview of our process. I talk a little bit about my work and learn their names, ages and where they go to school or if they are home schooled. 

We started with an introduction to the concept of exploring nature with art. I showed them this animation I had recently completed. Kids love cicadas and were instantly engaged with the idea of animation as a way of looking at natural phenomena.

Anim8Nature Life Cycle: 17-Year Cicada

To Animate: What does it mean?

I love to set the stage when I am teaching animation by asking this question. What does 
to animate mean? It means to bring to life. What could be more exciting than that? An animator can bring a simple line to life...or a cicada. Another concept I introduce is persistence of vision.  I think it is important and interesting for the students to understand that we are able to perceive a series of still images as motion because our eyes retain an image for a nano second. If the frame rate is fast enough, we see motion. Frame rate adds math to the equation of critical thinking skills involved in learning animation.

Steps of Our Process 

Step One:  Students get an overview of the next three hours.  They will walk outside to collect 2 or 3 objects to animate.The animation will be about some process of that objects life cycle or how it moves.

Step Two: Watch a demo of the animation app, Animatic by Inkboard.

Step Three:  Walk in the woods, collect their objects and come back inside.

Step Four: Watch a demo of the specific exercises they will create to learn the basics. Students open the iPads and walk through the two animation exercises together. Students complete two animations; working with blank frames (a bouncing ball) and copying frames (write-on text) and how to combine both in a single animation project.

Step Five: Students collect their objects in front of them at their desk and plan what aspect of the objects life cycle they want to explore as animation.

Step Six: Students get to work on their individual projects, ask questions, share and repeat. Completed animations are brought into iMovie to add sound effects and exported to the Photo Gallery on the iPad.

Highlights of the workshop:

Kristin Reiber Harris with students at Claytor Nature Study Center

A Walk in the Woods

Claytor's Alphabet Trail was a perfect choice for our foray into nature to observe and collect a few objects to animate. We had a great guide in Adam Reynolds, my assistant for the first part of the workshop. It's a beautiful short loop that was easy to navigate but full of wonderful organisms to observe. The snails were a big hit. The ferns were my favorites.

Back in the Classroom

I asked the students to spend a few minutes before we started working to think about their experience outside and how they wanted to proceed. Then we jumped in. We worked together to get the basics and then students proceed at their own pace.

I got to spend lots of time working with each student. This was the perfect size group for each of them to get real individual attention, every teacher's best case scenario.There were seven students and a nice gender mix, four boys and three girls. Why does it matter? Many reasons, one is that more girls need to see a future in STEM and female voices add to the dialogue. I definitely saw the effect particularly in subject matter in this workshop. The female students were more oriented to natural phenomena of humans and life cycles.

Like I Said, Snails Were Popular

The students did amazing work during the 3 hour workshop, their introduction to animation. One student had not even worked on an iPad before our session.

Let's take a look at Nick's animation.

Josh made this animation.

Educator/Naturalist Answers Our Questions

Danielle Racke, Claytor's Education Coordinator joined us for the second half of the workshop. Having a scientist with us was very helpful. Danielle could answer our questions as they came up, like questions about snail body parts I could not answer. I was able to find a great image of a snail (the live specimen were rather finicky at being examined carefully) to project and Danielle could teach us all a few things about snails. (The snails were returned to the woods after the workshop.)

Testing and Revising

Having a plan, working carefully and always proofing your work. That and revising are important concepts in animation and many other creative endeavors.  We took time during the workshop for the students to walk around the room and see their fellow students' work.  I also encouraged students to look at the sample animations Animatic provides for inspiration.

Carly learned examining a sample animation of a flying bird.

Malachi's snail


This was a very positive experience for all of us. Claytor Nature Study Center is a wonderful facility surrounded by 500 acres. It is beautiful and peaceful. I am most appreciative of the opportunity to work with Claytor students, take advantage of this natural setting and help more students and educators explore science with art and animation.

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