Animation Workshops with Young People

Jessica Langford runs an animation workshop in Edinburgh and much of her work involves contact with the local schools. She gives us the benefit of her experience.

Animation is one of the simplest, most creative and exciting ways of making a film – and these are some of the main reasons why young people respond so enthusiastically to animation workshops and the ‘anything can happen’ magic of animation. Much of the success of workshop productions is due to the enthusiasm and spontaneity of the groups — and the revelation that you don’t have to be Disney to make an animation film. In addition to using the conventional techniques of drawing cutouts and plasticine, young people are encouraged to experiment with animating everyday objects, models inks, leaves, glass beads, sand, silhouettes on a lightbox – anything that will produce interesting images and express their ideas as effectively as possible. The contents of the films vary enormously – from surreal fantasies illustrating a piece of music to a satirical comment or documentary on contemporary issues which the group feels strongly about. In schools the film is often related to a curriculum subject.

Technically, the basic equipment is simple to set up and operate (a camera, tripod and couple of lights or a lightbox) and the small amount of film stock used means that animation comes within the budgets of most schools, community centres and youth groups.

Producing an animation film involves so many processes and skills that it is an ideal educational medium. The small group structure enables each child to be involved in all the decision making and creative processes and to contribute individual ideas and skills while working together as a group. As the production develops, each child gains experience of contributing ideas, planning the storyboard, understanding ‘film language’, designing the artwork, making models, sets, observing movement, characterisation, mime, mathematics of calculating movements, frames, selecting camera positions, patience in animating the artwork, operating the camera, relating sounds to images, devising and recording the sound track, and finally, the technical skills of post-production. The amount of work and time involved in producing an animation film teaches people to express their ideas concisely and children who have difficulty in expressing themselves verbally (for example, deaf children) often find the magic of moving images a stimulating new language. As with any production, the success and completion of the film depends on cooperation and the interchange of ideas and skills: so it is very important for the group to work well together and the process of a workshop production is as important as the product.

In addition to the creative and educational role of the workshop in helping young people to use equipment and express their own ideas on film, one of the aims of workshops is to help develop and encourage a more media conscious audience. The more practical experience people have of being involved in a production, of expressing ideas, information, of discussing and questioning how and why, by who and to whom the images and information are being presented, the more chance there is in the future for a more aware, selective and critical audience.

Section of the storyboard for GRAVE HAPPENINGS produced by Pencuik Community Arts Youth Group.

Printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 10 (Autumn 1984)