Blog Post #11: Learning by Doing

This week, I’m going to focus on how much more I appreciate animation now that I have tried my hand at it. This class is made to be a fun class, but the one part of it that I was dreading was the animation project, as I have NO artistic ability at all. But in doing this project, I learned a great deal about the processes of animation which gave me a new and larger understanding of cartoons in general. And I likely wouldn’t have been able to create something like this had I not spent a semester learning about animation pioneers and their techniques.

From doing all the readings, I realized that the one thing that makes a piece of animation entertaining is a good story. Most of the studios we’ve read about have entire departments for developing stories, or at least a dedicated person on the team. I’m just one person, so I decided on some short cuts. In an earlier blog I saw a film that had taken a scene in a movie and animated it with Lego people, so I decided I’d start with that. Because I’m a dork, I already have some Star Wars Lego sets around the house, so at first I was going to do a Lego animated version of the “These aren’t the droids your looking for” from Star Wars: A New Hope.

After timing out the scene, however, and remembering how much of a problem early animators had lining their cartoons up with sounds (believably) I realized that might be too much to try for on my first time. Especially because Lego figures have a limited range of motion: the “hand wave” of the Jedi Mind Trick would be virtually impossible to pull off.

So I set my mind elsewhere, and went to the local Toys R Us to see what else might be interesting. When I was there, I picked up these:

What intrigued me was that each set had 3 models that could be made in it, and I immediately thought of my earlier blog about stealing, err, borrowing ideas & the old Disney movie Sword in the Stone.  Specifically, the scene where the wizard and witch out-do each other with magical transformations. So I wrote out my script, and story boarded it in my mind (another technique picked up from the readings). One truck would harass the other, it would transform into the loader, which would flip the first truck. That first truck would then transform into a race car and drive away. After a few hours of filming, I ended up with this, less than perfect piece of work:

Doing all the stop motion did teach me a lot about the process, and made me realize how tough it really is to get things right. From the readings, I remembered the discussions of speed (especially the Speedy Gonzales and Road Runner cartoons!), so I tried to vary the speeds of the trucks. I also tried different levels of sophistication. The yellow truck’s transformation is off-screen, but the green one is on screen. If I were to do it again, I would have done them both on screen, as the green one turned out really nice. I was expecting it to look jerky and fake looking. But that did teach me about how animation works, and how your eyes accept what they are seeing. I also had to cut out two frames that have my hand in them (watch carefully!) and I was afraid I’d loose the coherency of the motion, but that turned out ok as well.

And lastly, I decided to add music and sound effects after I enjoyed making the film, to give it more value. Again, taking a lesson from the early pioneers of animation we read about, I chose a song in the public domain (The Entertainer by Scott Joplin). I also used official Star Wars sound effects for the little star wars bit at the end, but I figured that was ok because of how many Star Wars themed BrickFilms there are on youtube, and because George Lucas seems to have a sense of humor about these things. But even in adding the sound and music (which my room mate helped me with) I learned a great deal about production and how a finished film comes together.

This project, while I initially was skeptical, really was an important piece of learning how animation works, to better understand the techniques and history behind the innovators we’re learning about. I have really learned to appreciate the early pioneers so much more.

My comments are here and here for this week.

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8 Responses to “Blog Post #11: Learning by Doing”

  1. K.Wade Says:

    James, you did a great job on your Lego stop motion project. It definitely looks like you knew what you were doing or had previous experience with stop motion. You are right, story lines are important. I can tell that you put thought into the storyline of you animation which makes it more interesting to watch. If you simply animated moving Legos it would not have been as interesting. I can see you gained a new respect for the animation process. It’s amazing that hours of work only produce 30 seconds of film. I did a series of three optical toys for my animation project but your work and this detailed blog about your experience with animation has inspired me to try making a stop motion short of my own in my spare time.

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  3. balberry Says:

    The animation project definitely was an eye opener for everyone I think. Your stop motion animation looks great! My project took a long time to do and it was very short. The project was great because, like you said, you really do learn more about animation when you try to create something.

    I would really like to give this a shot when I have some downtime. I like this post because I can take something away from it and apply it to future experiments of my own.

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  5. bonbonhistory Says:

    I did a Lego stop motion animation too. Same as you, I appreciate animation so much better afterward but I always knew it was time consuming and took some skill. I think next time I would try to make my lighting better and try to set up the camera differently. It is nice that you went back to say what you learned from this project. I do remember looking at your animation and thinking ‘wow mine’s not that good’ because you added in all the sound effects. I especially liked R2D2’s beeping. Overall you did a great job on your animation!

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  7. Cory Says:

    I realised the same sort of thing, though i was limited to making a flip book. By themselves, the images look disparate, though that may be a little harsh, but in the end, when the eye is perceiving the images as one moving object, it doesn’t look nearly that bad. I’m sure, on a grander scale like stop motion, especially when normal filmmaking techniques are applied, it gets a little more difficult and tedious. But overall, as long as images seem normal relative to the previous one, the final product is at least halfwya decent. I liked yours, you did a great job. its somewhere to start, and i’m sure that I’ll try it myself sometime.

  8. Christen Sanderson Says:

    I agree with you! I appreciate animation much more now than I did before now that I have tried it myself. It is much, much, much harder than it looks…and even simple animations take enormous amounts of time and effort!

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