The Animation Lab brings animation to middle schoolers

For the first time yesterday, the Animation Lab brought the fun of animation to some middle schoolers. It was STEAM day!

Janet began by giving a very short and simple presentation on what we do in the lab. And then we decided to give the middle schoolers a taste of the process and turn them into little animators. We asked them to create a story from any scientific topic they were learning that tickled their imaginations. Once they had a story in mind, we asked them to create a storyboard by sketching each shot on paper. This closely imitates the process we use while creating animations in the lab. While we mostly use 3D animation software to bring our storyboards to life, in the interest of time and skill we asked our young potential animators to use stop-motion or whiteboard animations. We noticed that some initially reticent kids sprung to life along with their storyboards, while some realized how painfully long stop-motion animation frame captures can be. We were also informed later that we were able to engage a usually non-complying student in the process of animation.

Being biased towards biology, we secretly hoped their stories would be inspired from biology, but we did not limit their exploration into other scientific topics. And oh boy! We realized many kids had dinosaurs and explosions on their mind. Their stories ranged from an asteroid hitting the earth and wiping away dinosaurs to the process of photosynthesis, from depictions of foodchain with a carnivore saying “I am happy” to the Big Bang. One group particularly enjoyed describing the Black Death with vivid comical sketches of the changes a victim undergoes, bringing some humor to a gloomy topic. With much fun and laughter, we did not realize three hours had flown by, but at least we have some images to look back at (see below).

Janet presenting some cool structures at the beginning of the workshop (Above left). Janet helping with creation of dinosaurs using clay and reliving her childhood Play-Doh moments (Above right).
Grace leading a small group to create a stop motion animation (Above left). Grace being an animated member of the Animation Lab (Above right)
A sample storyboard from one of the groups explaining the extinction of dinosaurs (Above left). A dinosaur community getting ready for extinction (Above right)
The Black Death whiteboard animation created by a group of students.
A usually-forgotten mandatory selfie (L to R: Grace, Janet and Shraddha)

Creating an animation with children could be an activity with dual benefits of fun and learning. It could bring out some misconceptions that children may have in their scientific concepts. For eg., one group animated the process of fertilization and had many sperms attack many eggs, when we typically have one egg released at a time which is pursued by many sperms. Such activities could also be a way to prolong attention spans of children on a particular topic. In closing, along with having them think critically about the scientific stories they are trying to express, they are also able to prod their creative and artistic side. So go experiment with animation! And don’t forget to say Lights! Camera! Action!