Godzilla: the remake goes into production

8th June 2001 at 01:00
LEGO Studios creates a movie-making experience that enables children to do everything from digitally recording their play, to adding sound and special effects. John Davitt reports.

Ashley knows how to do this. "Start with it normal," he says. "That's how films like this always start. Then later it will all go wrong". Ashley is filming his first digital movie production with LEGO Studios. Ashley and his co-producer Bradley are both aged 10 and are pupils at Gap House school, Broadstairs, which specialises in teaching children with speech and language difficulties. Together they are stitching together a Godzilla remake.

The backdrop of a normal cityscape is about to change to one of devastation. From the large bright LEGO box Bradley pulls a LEGO Godzilla and the next scene is planned in earnest discussion. Children can't do work like this without discussion and this has enormous potential in the classroom. Their teachers are also surprised at the language and co-operation this activity has unleashed.

Ashley thinks that five frames will be "just right" for Godzilla's jaws to close on the tank. They have augmented the LEGO box with some of their own toys as all good directors do. Then Bradley plays back the stills as a sequence and the action looks superb - a brief pause for congratulation and then it's on to the next scene.

As they can play back their work so quickly, learning curves are shortened and fresh ideas flow - this is interactive learning at its most powerful.

LEGO has done it again. Take a cast of thousands (well 400 LEGO pieces) provide a stage, backdrops, a neat little USB-webcam style of camera, and software to take pictures, and there you have it - a film studio in a box.

LEGO got together with Steven Spielberg (his proceeds go to charity) to produce LEGO Studios. It comes in a big brightly coloured pack and is just the tool to rekindle the educational power of what we used to call "just playing", across all phases.

Imagine a Victorian puppet-theatre with "characters on sticks", brought into the digital age and replaced by a large LEGO kit. The camera looks like a slightly outgrown LEGO brick and featues a neat red button on top. It can be built into buggies and carts for tricky tracking shots. Image quality is excellent and the one-metre lead means the camera can be moved a fair way from the computer, although the system is best used with a laptop to increase portability.

The software is also clear and straightforward. You can choose between stop-frame or time-lapse animation and, depending on your choice, the software will then take stills when clicked or after a set time period. Each series of clips is then available in a central store and may be dragged on to a timeline in the required order. It looks similar to iMovie or Adobe Premiere. Captions can be added to timelines for ease of editing and special effects transitions, and sounds may be added. The sound editing is particularly precise. You can record the sound you want to accompany a clip, then drag it along a timeline till it synchronises perfectly with the visual event.

All movies can then be saved as AVI files for presentation, although there is no full- screen playback option and the movies are saved in a small one-eighth screen format.

Animation has enormous potential in the curriculum, across all subjects and phases, and this pack will open the eyes of many educators to the opportunities. Teachers will soon learn how to adapt the resources with their own props and backdrops. In fact, a bit of creativity and a webcam will yield similar results.

For students making an animation it is a more useful life-skill than moving a robot or a sensor. Children have to consider another viewpoint to their own to "see what the camera will show". This pack provides almost all you need to satisfy the GCSE media syllabus and certainly all you need for the Qualification and Curriculum Authority guidance on multimedia presentations.

This is a wonderfully creative tool for learning by doing. Once again the education promise of ICT has leapfrogged the barriers imposed by those who wish to test and assess it. Presentations are passe; animations offer the power of digital narrative.

LEGO and Steven Spielberg Moviemaker SetPrice: pound;159 www.lego.comstudiosdefault.asp

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