Skype + NC = NYC! Stop-Motion Movies and Technology in the Classroom

The 7th grade class at my school is currently working on a cross-curricular Japanese Anime project where they creating their own stop-motion animated films based upon environmental themes.  The students work in groups and come up with their own idea relating to the theme, the characters they would like to use, and how they would like to present their message.  Then, in the classic stop-motion animation style, they take a series of pictures that they edit in imovie to create an animated film.

The project, The Animated Classroom: Using Japanese Anime to Engage and Motivate Students, was recently written up in the September edition of the English Journal.  For the math aspect of this project, the students read and timed their entire movie, and then read and timed each scene.  The art teacher and her previous students had determined that they would need 2-3 pictures per second to make the animation appear “smooth”.  So I had my students calculate the range for the number of pictures they would need for their total movie and for each scene based on this estimate.  It is important that the students take enough pictures as it is often difficult to go back and take more pictures once the shooting is over.

The students take all of the shots and do their own editing.  The characters in their movies can be anything from lego figures to barbies and paper dolls, or they can draw on a whiteboard.  An interesting part of the project for students is determining the angles to take the shots from, and how much they should pan or zoom.  Since the characters aren’t alive, it would be very boring (and not very animated) for the characters to be just standing facing each other during the talking.

Fortunately, I am friends with Matt Clark, the two-time Emmy nominated Director of Photography of the NBC hit show 30Rock.  With this project looming, and all of these camera angle questions in mind, who else better to ask than an extremely talented and exceptionally good-natured cinematographer?

Thanks to Skype, we were able to live stream Matt into my NC classroom directly from 30Rock’s NYC set!  Thanks to a overhead projector, we were able to put his face on the BIG screen!  However, for him to see the students, they had to sit in front of the computer when they asked their questions.  We also hooked into the sound system in the room, and it was great hearing his voice overhead!  But there was too feedback, so we had to go back to computer audio.

Each group collaborated before the interview and came up with the questions they wanted to ask him.  The students came up with some fabulous questions and I was impressed by their professionalism.  It is so hard to believe that they are only 12 and 13 years old sometimes.  They are an amazing group of students!  Some of the questions the groups asked about were camera angles, panning, zooming and the amount of hours it took to film a 30 minute episode (the answer is 60 hours!).  Thanks Matt for the math lead there – we are going to find that rate tomorrow in class and see how their filming hours and finished film time compare to 30Rock.

When they were finished asking their group questions we had a couple more minutes so Matt gave them more great tips about filming.  Then, I let them ask their fun questions.  They were most interested in the number of re-takes Matt had to take (especially of Tracy Jordan)!  At the end, they thanked Matt and then all at once said, “Who Dat Ninja?”.  That gave Matt a laugh.  My students had obviously been planning that one.  ; )