Remixing the status quo

9th June 2006 at 01:00
Making a pop video has taught students to mix art with technology and won them the opportunity to record their own version of a famous pop song. Andy Dixon explains

"You must be mad," was the verdict of my head of art at my first PGCE placement. My folly? A three-and-a-half minute animated pop video, to be made collectively over the year by the entire Year 7 intake (160 girls).

After 18 years in the animation industry, I had retrained to teach art and design. In my placements, I ran animation workshops using "stop frame" in Photoshop and Flash, successfully getting pupils to edit and add music.

Second time around, at Fort Pitt Grammar School in Chatham, Kent, the idea was embraced by the head of art. Working under the technology rotation, I used a team structure to ensure that all pupils participated. The project demonstrated team-building and resourcefulness, and introduced the creative use of ICT.

The "immediacy" of stop-frame is more rewarding to 11-year-olds than other types of animation. My heavily planned schedule targeted eight groups of 21 pupils for six to seven weeks. There was a lot of goodwill and support from other staff - ICT technicians prepared the file structure with complicated individual read-write permissions and extra disc space; the art technician, a man with a knack for making something from nothing, was fantastic. I also needed a rigid camera head to stick out of my ceiling tiles, with a mirror attached above in order to see the back of a camera. With the help of sketches, a few tiles removed, a rolled-steel joist identified, and some pipe brackets purchased, we were set. In September, the first group received the design brief: "The Government has launched a new initiative to promote multi-cultural attitudes in the UK. They want a 'stop frame'

animated music video produced, illustrated with food items and combining national flags and landmarks. As the video should feature as many countries as possible, the song chosen is 'Rocking all over the World', by Status Quo, with the chorus reworded as 'Noshing all over the World'."

With the key emphasis on team-work, the main task of the first session was for each team of seven to choose a country and come up with three ideas for film clips in sketch form. The following sessions were split into tasks of 15 or 30 minutes. In the first 15 minutes we ran through images from the previous week, discussing problems and potential improvements. The room was then transformed into an animation studio, with students dragging screens into position and preparing the props for the day's shoot. The editor from each team moved to the adjoining ICT room to re-size the previous week's images and prepare a Flash replay.

The scheduled 30 minutes of filming inevitably over-ran on several occasions, and we then had a hectic change back to the normal classroom, before the students were given homework, along with praise for their energy and enthusiasm.

Once the students understood that animation holds no boundaries, the ideas flowed. Teams decided who would animate the objects and sketch poses for those acting to mimic. The team that chose Greenland filmed a girl dressed up as an Eskimo, catching a fish through a hole in the ice. The fish then became huge before eating the Eskimo.

How is it possible to grade work? Apart from collecting materials and making props, it's possible to add other individual homeworks. A blank storyboard sheet allows students to reproduce clips as a test of communication and drawing skills; while for literacy purposes students might, for instance, write a letter to Status Quo's manager, explaining how well the project was going. This exercise could also act as an evaluation.

The school has now been given permission to re-record the song, on July 5, with a band from Year 11, all Year 7s doing vocals, and special guest Status Quo's most recent drummer on full kit. The video will be projected behind them while we film the performance.

Andy Dixon teaches art, design and graphics at Fort Pitt Grammar School, Chatham

Lesson ideas

Secrets of success

* Keep the camera stationary - a sturdy tripod is essential.

* The director or camera operator should stay with the camera at all times, to protect the position of the tripod.

* Each "animator" should be assigned different objects to move and manipulate routinely.

* Do not move objects randomly - movements should be planned carefully and look 'considered'.

* When objects take on personalities and appear to be acting themselves, you have achieved the illusion.

ICT requirements

* Adobe Photoshop Elements for re-sizing images, and deleting unwanted areas in the background;

* Macromedia Flash MX for importing sequences of frames, re-timing, creating replays and exporting movies;

* Adobe Premiere for editing.

* import the individual movies and line them up in sync with the audio track.

* The only other ICT issue is that you need a lot of disc space - so far, I have used 4.7GB and there are more than 7,500 files on the system.

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