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DIY Club: Stop Motion Month

Just in time for the release of the new movie The Boxtrolls, done entirely in claymation stop motion, we finished up a month long after school Lego stop motion program on Tuesdays for students in Gr. 6-8. Ellen thought it would be a good idea to talk about the structure of the program and some tips we have learned along the way.

Material Must Haves:
iStopMotion ($5.99), iMovie ($9.99), and DropBox (free) app
Bins of Legos and figures

*Note: This can also be done though the camera in a phone or tablet (regular camera phone app that comes free) and downloaded into iMove for a Mac or Windows Movie Maker for a PC (bearing in mind you have laptops or free computers handy) if you are on a shoestring budget. It's just less streamlined that way.  The key to stopmotion is FRAMES PER SECOND which can be changed in any of these editing programs as long as the students have taken enough photos.

Preparation Tip: Make sure to separate out weapons, costumes, and Lego figures before the kids come in to save time.  I stored all of it in a pencil case.  If you have any choice for Lego figures, I prefer the ones with 2 faces (usually happy or sad) that the kids can change with a turn of the head. It makes things more expressive.
Preparation Tip: If you have any budge left, buy Lego bases. They are much easier to use than to cobble together Legos for a makeshift base. Bases range from 4.99 to 14.99 each.

Other props that would be nice to have on hand:
colored paper and printed backgrounds
clear fishing line (for making things fly in the air)
cotton balls (for making explosions)
lots of masking tape (to tape the bases down to prevent moving and various other things)
felt/sheets (to cover tables and walls for a less distracting background)
sharpies (to write "THE END" and various other notes on paper) If you can getting kids to storyboard their ideas and shots first it would be ideal but I've never been successful at it.
clay (for blood, ooze, water or just to use to make models)
stands for ipads (we used our book display holders)
Small cardboard boxes (for stacking-the iPad has a limited zoom so it's challenging setting up shots without something to change camera heights. We have these awesome cardboard blocks that kids use in our children's room that have been re purposed for backgrounds and camera stands during shooting). 

Week 1 & 2: Set Design & Picture Taking  (1.5 hrs per session for 3 hours total)

Shooting Tip:Take 3 consecutive pictures for every time you make one stop motion move.  This will slow down your movie immensely and people will be able to notice all the details. This also adds time in if you want to add dialogue later. This can also be accomplished after the fact by tapping on the wrench for each picture in iStopmotion and pressing the "Duplicate Frame button"  or by changing the frames per second in the upper corner gear button.

Shooting Tip: Watch out for shadows, people moving in your backgrounds, random hands in shots, etc.  If you can get a group together, have one person in charge of moving each Lego figure. They can make one move say all set and another person can be in charge of the camera.  That way each person knows if they have moved the Lego or not. There is a "ghosting feature" on the iStopmotion app that helps and is worth the $5.99 in itself. This shows a blurry marker of the last movement shot once the Lego is moved. It's like a place marker.

Week 3: Editing and Film Debut (1.5 hrs)

We edit through iMovie on the iPad which is very limiting but easy to manage since we're already on the iPads.  One of the best features of the iPad version is that students in the class can make their own sound effects in addition to the library that is included. iMovie for the computer allows more options for adding text and film transitioning.

Our class was working nearly to the wire so we were unable to present them on the projector for their big debut but I emailed everyone their own files through our DropBox account right from the iPads.  Make sure you have a good wireless connection otherwise this part takes some time. Each iPad needs to be signed into a DropBox account. We have one for the library. DropBox allows you to share specific folders while keeping your personal/work files private. 

Structure Tip: What's interesting about the class is to see all the different styles of the students. Some spent the entire month doing one very long film (it was nice to have extra iPads on hand for them to be able to shoot multiple scenes at the same time), while others worked alone on one different story each time. I usually prepare for everyone to have their own iPad but many wanted to work in groups with varied success. Not everyone can be the director!

When we started editing some went with their own dialogue while others didn't want any sound effects at all so finishing times varied. Be prepared with something else to do during downtime. Research some awesome stop motion videos that are kid friendly that can be shown in the background. I'm a big fan of this epic Halo battle but use your judgement on the violence factor.  Another talented stop motion filmaker on youTube is Michael Hickox  I've played these videos before and during sessions (not near their shooting areas though because it affects the light) for inspiration. (video training tutorials) has a detailed stop motion tips and tricks class if you want to sign up for 2 weeks through MBLC.

Class extensions: SLJ  (School Library Journal) just covered Lego Story Starter packs to promote literacy which includes computer software, Lego figures galore, and a spinner to help stories get started. These can easily be integrated into stop motion class along with Lego WeDo Kits to add robotics (something the kids wouldn't have to move on their own to convey motion). I think we could devote an entire summer reading program to Legos and still keep the momentum going (think Building theme of 2017!).

In the meantime, enjoy our internet film debut:

DIY Club Stop Motion from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.


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