Produce Iowa
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Produce Iowa

Inside “The Film Lounge” with FilmScene’s Animation Camp

Timing animation to music, FilmScene Animation Camp.

Space camp. Dance camp. Basketball camp. Bagpipe pipe. These days, kids can go to camps for just about any human endeavor.

But if you ask us, some of the luckiest got to go to FilmScene’s Animation Camp last summer in Iowa City, to learn how to make all sorts of animated films.

We’ll see a sampling of them in a new series called “The Film Lounge,” which premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, on Iowa Public Television. It’s a showcase of short homegrown films by Iowa filmmakers, curated and produced by IPTV, Produce Iowa and the Iowa Arts Council.

If you’re free, feel free to join us for any of the three preview parties set for Sunday, Feb. 5, at Iowa City’s FilmScene; Thursday, Feb. 9, at Des Moines’ Fleur Cinema and Café; and Sunday, Feb. 11, at Sioux City’s Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center.

You can read some of the backstories about the other “Film Lounge” contributions elsewhere in this blog, but in this post, let’s take a closer look at Animation Camp.

Over the course of two one-week sessions, about 50 upper-elementary and junior high kids invaded one of FilmScene’s viewing rooms. They set up a few tables and chairs and covered them with construction paper, glue, scissors, markers, crayons, glitter and iPads — you know, all the usual Hollywood gear.

The program started with a broad overview to introduce the young moviemakers to a range of stop-motion techniques with claymation, shadow puppets and so forth. They learned how to use Apple software called Stop Motion Studio Pro. They took field trips around the neighborhood to scavenge for fresh ideas and supplies.

They even experimented with sound effects.

“We spent half a day making weird noises into a microphone and then editing them,” said local artist and workshop instructor Mark Jones, who led the camp with Buffy Quintero, a teacher in the Iowa City public schools.

“It was great,” Mark added. “There was a lot of quacking.”

But then came the real fun, when the kids started making movies of their own. In groups of four or five, they wrote basic (or very elaborate) stories and figured out exactly how to tell them.

“There was one about a zombie Elvis. And maybe a rabbit? And maybe some sort of dance-off?” Mark said. “Sometimes it was hard to tell.”

But like all of the best artists, these filmmakers didn’t let any pesky plot details hamper their overall vision. They pushed right through filming and post-production, within the budget and on schedule — just in time for the big premiere for their parents at the end of the week. They even made movie posters to promote their work.

Last year’s inaugural Animation Camp was so successful that FilmScene is expanding the program to five weeks this summer. But for the participants, of course, the filmmaking doesn’t have to end with the workshops.

“This is something they can go home and do without any teacher oversight,” Mark said. “In the classroom (where I used to teach), I kind of had to be the man behind the curtain, but here, this was all them. It was cool to see them take to this so quickly.”

We asked some of the Animation Campers to tell us what they learned, and they had plenty to say. Here are a few of the emailed responses (slightly edited for clarity) from Whit Jury, 11; Olivia Hendrickson, 11; Frieda Kenyon Brown, 12; and junior counselor Harry Westergaard, 16.

What was the best skill you learned at camp?
WJ: The best skill I learned was shadow animation. Fun!

OH: It was probably the silhouette puppets. We learned how to make a cool show out of paper, sticks and cloth.

FKB: I learned how to move the figures only a tiny bit, even a few millimeters, for each frame so the animation is smooth and clean. I also learned how to use Stop Motion Studio, an app that allows you to create stop-motion animation on your phone or tablet. This helps with animation in general, as well, and now I think I could create a decent one myself, if I had the time and materials.

HW: I was mostly familiar with the methods we used to create the animated films, but we used tripods for the iPads, which were quite helpful. I also learned some valuable skills for working with people across multiple age groups and how to differently convey information to them.

How did Animation Camp change how you watch animated films?
OH: Now I know all of the hard work that goes into all of stop-motion animation. I always thought they were cool, but I didn’t realize how hard it was to make. I now realize how amazing the people are who make the films just for our entertainment.

FKB: Now when I seen an animation, I wonder how it was made and look for every frame as it’s shown. When I look at the whole thing, I see a complicated and long process that created a whole world.

HW: I saw further evidence about just how much painstaking attention to detail and dedication goes into making each frame. If one tiny thing is messed up, you need to go back and reshoot a couple of frames — at least.

Do you have any plans to make animated films in the future?
OH: I’ve already made a few with my friends and by myself, using silverware and packages of bread spreads. If I hadn’t gone to the camp, I probably never would have thought about making stop-motion videos.

FKB: I probably won’t make any long ones; I just don’t have the time. But I’ll create plenty of short fun ones to share with friends or maybe put on YouTube.

HW: I’ve made films in the past, but Animation Camp re-ignited my interest in the technique and with working with larger groups. The whole environment was exhilarating and much preferable to be being locked in a basement with paper cut-outs.

WJ: I’ve already made my own animated films and now will make more!

Originally published at on February 2, 2017.



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