They're animated against exclusion

16th April 2004 at 01:00
In a matter of minutes the blank wall was covered in drawings of unusual looking monsters. Their heads did not quite match their bodies, and their bodies did not match their legs, but then that was the whole point. They were monsters, after all.

Playing monster consequences, where each part of the monster is drawn by a different person who cannot see what has been drawn before, was a fast and fun way for the young people on a week-long animation school in Fife to devise characters for their short film.

Twenty S2 and S3 pupils from Woodmill High in Dunfermline joined forces with the Fife cultural co-ordinators and animator Bruce Husband for the first week of the Easter holidays to make a short animation film that explored issues of importance to them, their peers and the local community.

It was not the first time the students had worked together.

They met last year on the cultural co-ordinators' summer school programme making the film GIGANTIC - a spoof of Titanic. They were reunited last week to enhance their creative skills in new media technology. But this time, instead of acting, they designed and constructed characters from soft clay and used a technique called stop frame animations, as in Wallace and Gromit.

The students were a targeted group, at risk of exclusion from formal education. They chose aliens and monsters to explore important issues, says cultural co-ordinator Barry Woods.

"On the first day of the animation school they were all very engaged in the activities. The themes were chosen and the characters selected. It was all decided very quickly, as they had a good grasp of what they were doing.

"The theme is cultural diversity and they decided to look specifically at racism and bullying. They chose this monster and alien theme, doing a chat show like Jerry Springer - it was all very imaginative."

The students worked initially as one group, occasionally splitting up into smaller groups to discuss something and report back to each other. Towards the end of the week they worked in small teams as set designers, soundtrack engineers and light technicians.

"All the different roles made it similar to a production company," Mr Woods says. "The roles were rotated and the students were offered the opportunity to do everything, but if one person enjoyed something and wanted to stay with it they could - it was up to the young person."

The aims of the week, as well as teaching skills in ICT and the moving image, were to enable young people to establish relationships and work with their peers, increase participation in out-of-term activities and increase confidence and self-esteem.

"The majority of young people were selected last year because of behavioural problems in the classroom. They needed a push forward to become involved and to start mixing with their peers," Mr Woods says. From day one they worked well together.

"When they were playing monster consequences they became really animated and got right into it. They gave the characters personalities and some have super powers. Some are ridiculous, for example, with powers that can change people into carrots. But it was all good fun and they realised they had some exciting characters."

Seemingly far removed from the curriculum, the work has links with art and design, drama, music, English and personal and social development. It received funding from the New Opportunities Fund and the Fife cultural co-ordinators initiative.

Mike Gilmour, headteacher of Woodmill High, says: "This is an outstanding way of capturing the pupils' imagination and enthusiasm. I know from past experience of a similar project that the pupils benefit enormously in terms of their motivation and experience of success. Who knows what exciting new young talents we will uncover?"

The short film, lasting three minutes, will be premiered in school in the summer term. "We will show it in the main hall and invite as many people involved as possible," Mr Woods says. "It shows the young people that they were working towards something and hopefully they can feel some self-worth and a sense of achievement."

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