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A Teacher's Initial Experiences With the LunchBox

by

Eleanor Ritter

 

  Our school purchased a LunchBox Sync in December 2000. This is a tool I highly recommend for students of any age. Before presenting it to my high school students, I wanted to make sure I understood its basic functions, so I took it home over Winter Break. We'd ordered some peripherals (a monitor, camera and tripod) from another source, but they had not yet arrived, and I didn't yet have the Users' Manual. So I scrounged an old monitor and some cables from our school's media specialist, and borrowed my son's camcorder and tripod. I had only a single-page handout and the symbols on the box itself to help me set the whole system up. That proved to be more than enough to enable me to make my first animation! I was relieved to realize how easy it was.

  The symbols on the box showed me clearly which port would link the Box to my son's camcorder, and which to the monitor, so without even looking at the instructions, I was ready to get started. When I plugged the LunchBox in, a question came up on the little screen on the LunchBox, asking me whether it was okay to work without the camera. There were two buttons beside the screen, and a glance at the sheet told me green was "yes" and red was "no". Simple. I touched the red button and was ready to roll.

  My first animation was simple and great fun; I spent an afternoon moving small (1-2 inch) toy figures about on the edge of a shelf. I started with a single figure, then tried moving several to interact with each other. The figures were stiff little statues, but were able to "act out" a story of sorts by turning, approaching, leaving, varying their speeds, etc.

  Satisfied that the process was easy, I took the equipment back to school at the end of the break, and encouraged students to use it. These students were all enrolled in my high school film class, so were familiar with the benefits of varying camera angles, paying attention to diagonals, and so on. The variety of their approaches shows students' instant rapport with this technology, and its capacity to let them express their own creativity.

  The first student group used two articulated artist's models (wooden, jointed, standing about 8 inches tall) to act out a scene from a fantasy story. They invented a variety of techniques to create a dramatic effect. For instance, when the evil enemy appeared on a ledge above the hero, they changed the camera position to be looking up at the villain, to create a sense of her power. When the hero was running, they chose to position the camera so the figure was visible only from the waist up, so that they would only need to animate the torso and arms. The final result made a coherent, dramatic story.

  A feature of the LunchBox Sync that really made their job easier was the switch that lets you toggle the view back and forth from the most recent frame to the live image. You can do this manually, or set it to keep flickering back and forth between the two images. That way, if you've left your figures and returned later to film, or if a figure is bumped or falls over, you can literally get it perfectly aligned with the last image.

  The next group to film chose to take a small piece of wire and bend it into the shape of a figure. They found twigs to simulate trees, and had their small figure walk towards a mysteriously-appearing lake (a splotch of clear gel on a shelf), which kept growing (as they added a bit of gel between frames) and swirling. The figure stepped into the lake, and sank out of sight. I assume they clipped off bits of the wire as they filmed this last scene, so that the solid figure could appear to sink into the equally solid shelf!

  Here's another advantage of animation for creative work: you can create effects with small figures that would be impossible to film with real actors.

  A third group worked with clay set in paper backdrops, and animated a dream one of them had had as a child! Clay was a perfect choice for her, because she needed a number of props, two different figures. She, too, varied camera angles and distances for dramatic effect, and ended with a strong piece.

  A fourth group worked with larger toys, animating a chase scene. This last piece demonstrated vividly for me another great feature of the LunchBox, which is that you can input sound. The animated toys were a bit boring when silent, but with a musical soundtrack, suddenly the whole story took on interest and energy. It was great.

  Some of these students were people I would previously have considered "artistic", and most were not. Two of the four groups who chose to make animations consisted of students who often seem disconnected with school, and who fail some of their classes. Yet they really connected with the animation project, stayed after school to put in hours of time, and beamed with pride at the result.

  I highly recommend animation to schools, as yet another tool for helping students to analyze the media around them, to plan and carry out a project involving multi-tasked thinking, and to work alone or with partners in a very satisfying creative endeavor.

 

"The editing features are invaluable for character animation"

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