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
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
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.