Friday Clay Animation Lessons – Penn Treaty Middle School

Hello Again,

It has been a while since I’ve posted and I’m excited to share what we’ve been doing lately. With the help of Ning Zhang, I am teaching a wonderful group of middle school students from the Penn Treaty Schools during a program after school on Fridays. We began a few weeks ago and have been progressing very quickly.

The subject matter is relatively challenging both conceptually and in terms of physical skill. Clay animation is not the easiest choice for an art program, it requires a range of skills as well as patience and the ability to conceptualize a product in the fourth dimension. We begin with just a lump of clay which we have to shape and then animate by slowly moving it and photographing each stage. This challenges the students to work through the process in their minds and be able to see how an object can evolve over time.

We began the program by drawing storyboards to help with cementing an idea and visualizing how we might animate an inanimate object. The students were challenged to come up with their own ideas and they displayed a remarkable receptiveness and creativity. One student drew a story about having a pet velociraptor, another about time traveling through her mirror. Two other students drew complementary stories about sharing food at lunchtime. There were numerous other ideas and some truly excellent drawings. I felt as though we had successfully negotiated the first hurdle of abstracting a single scene or drawing through a progression in time.

During the next lesson we incorporated the storyboard concepts of the previous lesson to aid in determining where a problem might arise when we translated a drawing into a physical piece of sculpted clay and attempted to move it around. As a group the students were challenged to come up with a brief scene where two normally inanimate objects interacted in a way where one was helping the other in some way. The idea that the students came up with was really delightful, I could certainly not have predicted it.

They decided that they would have two shoes, and have one of the shoes help the other tie itself. The intricacies involved both in the conception and in the execution of this idea are genuinely inspired. I separated the class into two groups each tasked with designing and sculpting one of the shoes. They selected their own colors and styles and the shoes were distinctly different. One was largely three-dimensional and purple, the other was two-dimensional and brown and white. One was a hi-top Nike shoe, the other low top and non-branded. After the shoes were completed we transferred them to the filming surface and slowly filmed the whole scene with one of the students directing, one filming, and the others in charge of moving and changing the sculptures between each frame capture.

We are currently in the middle of a project spanning multiple lessons to challenge the students even farther and see what they can produce when given the additional time. I will update as soon as we complete the project.

So far I have been thoroughly impressed by the willingness and creativity of the students and their ability to grasp the concepts involved. The experience of working with such delightful students and being a part of this creativity has been incredibly rewarding. I look forward to teaching every single week and I hope we can continue meeting and overcoming challenges each and every lesson.

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