Learning & Creativity, Literacy, Post MA areas of interest

Picasso, digital glue & animation

Rich Mix, a charity and social enterprise arts venue in Bethnal Green, East London is expanding its educational programme for schools, colleges and teachers. They offered a free animation workshop for Tower Hamlets teachers with animators, Tom Hillenbrand and Shelley Wain. I knew the principles of animation from working with Flash in the early noughties, but the hands on experience was entirely other and much more enjoyable.

Over a period of about 3 hours, we went through the processes of development, pre-production, production (I Can Animate) and post-production (iMovie) and produced a 30 second cut-out animation. From a stimulus involving a pile of subjects (ours was History) and a pile of film genres (ours was Horror), some hand-crafted flat elements, a latent appreciation of film grammar and a collective knowledge of Anne Boleyn’s sad demise, our group of 3 created a multi-layered text with narrative meaning – in a medium that was new to us. See here at 33 seconds in.

Persistence of Vision was an MEA animation project from 2009 – 2010 whose central hypothesis was “that recurrent opportunities for children to engage in critical and creative activity with animated film would lead to substantial gains in children’s attainment, not only in relation to film but also in relation to other curricular areas and behaviour, compared to what they might achieve through “one-off” projects” (taken from the summary report, accessed April 2012).

Picasso’s ‘Bulls Head’ 1942. Source: Wall Street Journal, April 16 2011

Activities and projects such as these reinforce my conviction that the synthesis of elements – concepts, ideas, tangible objects, media, music, sound, genres, photos, illustrations, disciplines, familiar narratives, plasticine, lego – is the most potent creative act and when applied in new contexts, this synthesis deepens our capacity to make meaning.

As Tim Brook puts it, film-making can be the “digital glue” that meshes our own personal network of skills, knowledge and understanding. In “Teaching Media in Primary Schools” (ed. Bazalgette, 2010:128), Brook alludes to Picasso’s ‘Bulls Head’ or rather his alternative take on a bicycle saddle and some handlebars arranged in a bovine way: “Picasso offered us a new way of seeing both bicycle and bull, and also a deeper understanding of our own perceptions. The film-making process likewise pulls together a wide range of competences from the curriculum and beyond.”

This range of competencies is beautifully illustrated in a local ongoing animation project, one of whose episodes was produced and filmed at Hackney Pirates last summer. Animator, Saskia Schmidt, has conceived of a story in which a sheep is on a journey to discover all the colours in the world. Hackney’s was Silver World. The film recalls all the surreal qualities of my childhood interactions with animation, where nothing was more normal than for soft knitted aliens with long noses to engage with Soup Dragons and speak in high pitch, whooping cadences. Young children are now given the opportunity to fully indulge, record and distribute the fruit of their creative urges, a privilege that was once the preserve of BBC programme commissioners and professional creatives of the day.

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