Clay, cameras, action

12:23:59 PM CDT - Friday, June 18, 2004

By Melissa Lacey

A green Martian boy with three eyes and his fuchsia-colored dog with orange and blue antennae enjoy a picnic by a pond. A giant creature made of garbage springs to life from a pile of nearby litter. The boy and dog save the day by properly stuffing the trash monster into a garbage can.

So went the anti-littering public service announcement created by 11-year-olds Austin Witherspoon and Leila Shaffer during the Clay Animation Camp June 7-11 at Stucky Middle School. Wichita State University's colleges of Fine Arts and Education sponsored the first-ever camp last week.

Twenty-four students in fourth through eighth grades from Andover, Haysville, Hillsboro, Hutchinson, Maize, Manhattan, Rose Hill, and Wichita attended the camp and created clay animation films using clay puppets, small-scale sets and stop-motion film technology. Movies such as "Chicken Run" and "James and the Giant Peach" were filmed using stop-motion clay animation.

Jeff Karlowski
Jeff Karlowski, 12, Wichita, uses string to
maneuver a clay puppet in front of a Web
cam during the Clay Animation Camp June
7-11 at Stucky Middle School.
Photo by Melissa Lacey
"The camp was really fun," said Paul Karlowski, 13, Wichita. "It was hard to have patience, though," he said, noting that one second of stop motion film was comprised of 10 photographs, and one clay puppet took an hour to create.

As part of a graduate-level course in art education, eight local teachers led the 24 student campers. The teachers had previously attended a three-day training seminar.

Head instructors of both the graduate course and camp were Mary Sue Foster, professor and director of art education in WSU's College of Fine Arts, Tonya Witherspoon, instructor and technology specialist in WSU's College of Education and Gail Boddy, teacher and site technology specialist at Stucky Middle School, which hosted the camp.

The primary goal of the camp was to enhance learning through increased visual literacy. The benefits from the camp were many. For the students, creating a clay animation movie allowed them to combine their artistic and creative talents with clay and computer technology to tell a story and have fun, said Witherspoon. Clay animation in a team environment improves a variety of skills, including language, mathematical, spatial and collaboration, she said.

"I found out what contrast was," said Forrest Karlowski, 9, Wichita. For example, if you use a dark set background, you should use light-colored clay characters or animals, he said.

Teachers learned an appealing method for integrating technology in the classroom, Witherspoon said.

"We couldn't do this in the classroom 10 years ago because we didn't have access to this kind of technology," she said. Clay animation is ideal for classroom teaching because of the small scale and ease of replication with the appropriate art materials and technology, such as cameras, computers and software, she added.
Toxic Mutants

A mutant squirrel, dog and rabbit, fashioned from clay,
destroy a town in one group's public service message
film about the dangers of toxic pollutants.
Photo by Melissa Lacey

Armed with firsthand knowledge of film production and special effects techniques, student campers also learned critical thinking and analytical skills. The process included brainstorming and storyboarding, set building, making clay puppets, animating using computers and video editing.

"They will never look at an animated movie in the same way again," said Foster.
The camp culminated with an open house viewing for family and friends on Friday, June 11. Sets were displayed and completed films were shown. At the conclusion of the camp, each teacher received a Web cam and software necessary for making clay animation films in their own classrooms.

Shirley Mamoth, a general science teacher at Spaght Elementary in Wichita, plans to use clay animation to demonstrate the stages of a butterfly or how a seed grows, for example.

"Any time you integrate technology into what you're teaching, the kids are more excited about it," said Mamoth.

Foster, Witherspoon and Boddy will present a paper on using clay animation as a new model for enhancing visual literacy through classroom technology during an international conference in Lugano, Switzerland on June 23. A WSU International Travel grant is supporting a portion of their travel expenses. Karen Reynolds, College of Education Technology Manager, is a co-author of the paper and will attend the conference, as well. Reynolds and Witherspoon will also present a paper on a WSU graduate course taught to teachers in 13 different countries as part of WSU's global learning initiative.

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