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Plasticine rats set scene as film-makers get animated

He has a great name for a filmmaker and today 12-year-old Elliot Tawns is teaching other children how to create an animation

He has a great name for a filmmaker and today 12-year-old Elliot Tawns is teaching other children how to create an animation

He has a great name for a filmmaker and today 12-year-old Elliot Tawns is teaching other children how to create an animation.

Elliot and his friend, Robert MacDonald, 11, have been using the Digital Blue software package and camera for a year at Sunnybank School in Aberdeen. They're now so accomplished in the techniques, that they can teach other people.

The boys are demonstrating to pupils visiting the Schools Festival at Word 2008, Aberdeen University's annual writers' festival. Children are swarming around the quad at King's College in Old Aberdeen on a sunny day when most of the student population seems to have abandoned study to sprawl on the grass in front of Elphinstone Hall.

The university could not have had a better week to advertise the merits of higher education and showcase Word - blue skies and thousands of sun-worshipping teenagers swanning around like supermodels.

The three-day Schools Festival is a sell-out this year in the run up to the main literary event, which also features a Children's Festival - suitable for nappy-wearers and upwards.

A group of home-schooled children is visiting the Reading Bus Film Workshop and groups of P7 from Sunnybank are patiently demonstrating how scenes are filmed and edited together.

The Reading Bus is the focal point of a three-year pilot project to promote literacy, initially in the St Machar area of Aberdeen. On board, storyteller Grace Banks is revealing the story children are about to film - a moral tale in Doric, called The Test. "It's about three men who are given a test and the story is about how they react to it - it's mainly about kindness," Elliot explains.

He and Robert are directing their classmates, Paul and Michael, to move the tiny figures they are filming for their short animation. Their teacher, Lorna Owen, is on hand to keep the movie on schedule. "As soon as you say you're going to make a little film similar to Wallace and Gromit, that's them hooked," she says.

Robert describes how the drama unfolds on a brightly painted set, as the camera attached to their laptop records the action, ready for editing: "These are Playmobil figures, but the rats are plasticine and all you have to do is move the characters."

"You have to make them do really small movements, otherwise the whole movie will just go really fast," his co-director, Elliot, adds.

They're explaining this for nine-year-old Angharad Jones, who grasps it quickly. "I've done more difficult things - like trying to encourage the cat to go into his box to go to the vet," she says earnestly.

Classroom assistant Andrea Robison did a digital camera course for animation and she's seen this package give children more confidence with computers and more patience working alongside each other. "When they're teaching other groups like this, it gives them a chance to show a bit of knowledge about what they've done," she says.

The Reading Bus plays a major part in Word for children - introducing visitors to the project's hilarious book of Doric verse, Fit Like Yer Majesty?, and presenting a collaboration with the Natural History Centre, exploring patterns in nature.

Among Schools Festival highlights are a puppet show and stories from anti-bullying campaigner Julie Hegarty, introducing children to the underwater world of Michelle the Shell. Best-selling author Steve Augarde is reading from his new novel, Winter Wood, and pupils from Kittybrewster School give a live one-hour broadcast from the festival (

Reading Bus writer in residence David Barry has been working with children from 11 schools in the St Machar community on descriptive writing. An anthology of their mysterious cliffhanger stories, Search Inside, is also launched at Word.

The co-ordinator of the Reading Bus, Jenny Watson, says the pilot is going well and about to enter its third year: "We have managed to have high-quality learning experiences on the bus, that are very much cross-curricular and fitting in with A Curriculum for Excellence."

Back on board, Nathan Miller, 8, is relaxing after his introduction to animation. He is practising for a career in front of the camera: "Where did the general put his armies?" he asks us. "Up his sleevies," he grins.

Word Festival winners p18.

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