Moulding movie talent

19th January 2007 at 00:00
How a team of teenage animators morphed into cutting-edge directors - with the help of plasticine and cardboard boxes. Stephen Manning reports

Morph may have perished in a fire at the Aardman studio just over a year ago, but he would be proud to know that his claymation legacy is being carried on by young people at the forefront of digital technology.

Year 9 and 10 pupils at King Harold school, a comprehensive in Waltham Abbey, Essex, demonstrated their prowess with clay animation at last week's BETT show in London - the highlight of the technology in education calendar.

They were exhibiting at Create at BETT, the only one of 2,000 stands at the event staffed entirely by pupils. In small groups, the 16 pupils gave a series of half-hour presentations over the course of the four days.

Their task each day was to produce an animation from scratch. They began with a storyboard of ideas, then made the characters out of plasticine. The scenery was made out of old boxes and any other materials they had to hand.

With football in mind, they kicked off the first day with a re-enactment of Arsenal's 6-3 defeat of Liverpool in the League Cup.

Once the scene was assembled, the results were photographed at 20 frames a second with a DVD camera linked to an AppleMac computer using iStopMotion, a stop-frame animation programme.

The result was a 60-second QuickTime movie. Audio was added afterwards using GarageBand, a downloadable software offering sampled musical sounds.

"The content of the animation is up to the pupils," says Malcolm Burnett, IT teacher and business development manager at the school. "It is a long day for them, working and presenting in alternating groups from 10am to 6pm - but they find it exhilarating."

For the past three years, King Harold has shared the Create at BETT stage with other schools, so this was the first time they manned the stand alone.

This year also marked their debut at presenting, and they received prior training in technology and presentation skills at 21CC, the BBC's digital learning centre.

As well as animating plasticine models, they worked with blue-screen technology, interviewing members of the public and each other in front of a blue screen on to which video backdrops are projected www.digitalteachernetwork.netprojectscreate_at_bett

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