Prototyping Animation in the MakeShop

We have been discussing the idea of introducing animation or video into the MakeShop.  Stop-motion animation is always fun, but how do we implement it so that visitors can easily use it and interact with it in meaningful ways?  Well, we brainstorm and prototype.

We already had a very crude stop-motion program developed by Greg W. of the Exhibits Department.  This program is controlled by an even more crude looking photo-taking/playback device.  The controller is literally built inside of a takeout container from the Museum’s Cafe’. Prototypes do not have to be pretty.

I spent some time brainstorming ideas with Christina, one of our teaching artists, in front of visitors.  I always enjoy doing this because it shows how we think about exhibits and programs at the Museum – we work together to come up with the ideas.  We even take visitor input in the initial phases of prototyping.  Christina and I came up with a simple project to use with the stop-motion program: we’ll help visitors animate leaves falling off of a tree. A great activity for the fall season!

We quickly set up the rig.  We cut out fabric leaves and drew a background of a tree on a piece of paper.  Christina made a quick animation of leaves appearing out of thin air onto the tree.  This quick example allowed us to explain what stop-motion animation is and why it’s a fun and creative way to explore animation.  Christina was able to get a visitor to help her test out the project.  This girl sat and listened while Christina explained the process.  Then the two of them set out to animate the leaves falling off the tree.  The final product was really fun to watch.  The process looked just as fun.  Stop-motion is tedious, but really rewarding.  It requires a lot of teamwork.  The three of us discussed what other simple animations we could do with kids.  The visitor suggested a “setting sun.”  I suggested something to do with cows.  Christina thought it would be cool to animate a dripping faucet.  The girl’s mom joined in the brainstorming too.

Our prototyping helped us to determine that the project could work as an interactive activity for visitors.  We also came to the realization that certain aspects of animation need to be approached in different ways when dealing with different age groups.  We need to develop a project that guides visitors through the process, but at the same time is open-ended enough for older visitors to really get creative.   The key is to provide structure, but not too much structure.

I had a lot of fun developing this project and I cannot wait to see what becomes of it.


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