An all-in-one animation system used for visual storytelling and engaging STE(A)M learning
By JOHN, RICK & FRITZ.
Once Upon a Time...
In early 2019, we started working with Ron Suskind and The Affinity Project making communication tools for neurodiverse people. These efforts centered around bringing people together by using shared affinities as a foundation for communication and connection.
One of the apps we launched: bongo.town
Sept 2019: Lets get phsyical
We thought it would be valuable to diverge from the apps, and spend some more time in person with neurodiverse kids. A common affinity we saw amongst neuro-diverse people is Animation, so we brought animators and neuro-diverse people together to make some simple animations. In the spirit of simplicity, the animation form we landed on is top-down, paper-based stop-motion. This technique involves making paper characters, props, and scenes, and shooting frame by frame from above.
Some paper animators that we love and inspired our thinking:
Yvonne Anderson and Yellow Ball Workshop
“The Yellow Ball Workshop was a place for mainly children (although all ages were welcome) to learn about the processes of making animated films, which included using the materials to create their own films. Using the camera, synchronizing sound and picture, and animating the figures were among the skills taught at this workshop”
Read more about Yvonne Anderson and Yellow Ball ︎︎︎
Oct. 2019– Trying it out: Bringing professional animators and kids together
Animators Tim Smyth and Emily Timm joined our team to bring art, education, and animation expertise to the project.
Tim & Emily working with Will (14) to make a Gifo in japanese about a Frog:
As we started making these short little films, we realized quickly that Yvonne was seriously onto something back in 1979! Not only is it a highly communicative art-form, the process itself forces you to slow down and use your hands to bring something to life. Simply by pushing a paper character around underneath the camera, those who do not consider themselves artistic can naturally find their creative spirit within the form.
However, this art form requires a fair amount of equipment + know-how to develop. You need to have art supplies, lights, cameras, and knowledge of animating. Bringing our equipment to different sites became tedious and impractical. Within this tediousness arose an idea: What if we put everything – the art supplies, instructions, lights, camera, into a box: an all-in-one animation machine!
Drawing by Walker
And with that, the Gif-O-Graf was born. We began by making a couple of crude mock-ups out of foam, before having the first prototype made by local woodworkers Matt Giossi and Ron Kuhn.
Tim with his early mock-up
William using the first prototype to make this Gifo:
Trial & Error
As we started using the Gif-O-Graf we started to learn what works and what doesn't, and how we could best approach the project.
To start, we used Dragonframe, the professional animation software used by most stop-motion animators. But we found that this software was overly complex and had a steep learning curve.
Additionally, when a computer or smart-phone is incorporated into the process, it's easy to get distracted by all the other things you can do on those devices. If a kid is making a movie using their iPhone, they can easily be distracted by social media, texting, or any of the other million things they have on there.
So we decided to build our own controller. The controller allows you to preview your animation and easily take new frames.
Shawn Wallace previewing the rasberry-pi equipped controller
Learning from educators: how does it fit into how we do things?
We conducted several focus groups with a diverse set of educators: from private school technology heads to public school special ed. kindergarten teachers, and gained valuable insights on what schools and teachers are looking for.
1. Anna - “...there is a need for students to be able to express what they’ve learned in multiple ways.”
2. David - “...we’re constantly looking for new ways to improve story telling.”
3. Nikki - “...learning the language of the education system is critical to bringing new technologies into it...”