Student artists try filmmaking

April 25, 2011


Recent workshops helped local students discover that filmmaking could be putty in their hands.

Piedmont Arts Association provided two claymation workshops through a partnership with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. Students from Bassett, Magna Vista and Martinsville high schools as well as Carlisle School took part.

Two artists, Abigail McKenzie and Andrew Morgan, led the students in making characters out of clay, creating a story line for them and filming the characters in a three-minute movie. The film was made using stop-motion animation, or claymation.

During one of the workshops, Morgan explained that instead of beginning with writing a script, the students first would create characters. That way, each student had the opportunity to create a character, instead of one student taking the lead, said Morgan, a Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker who also teaches animation courses.

The characters were made from animator’s clay, and students used different colors to create the legs, hands, faces and other body parts of each character. Some students created clay figures that resembled themselves, while others created the likenesses of favorite teachers, such as MHS teacher Nick Karavatakis, whose character was called “Mr. K” for short.

Elizabeth Edelen, a 10th-grader at MHS, made a character that managed to be two things at once. She explained that it was a “squirrel-alien” with one giant eyeball for a head and a green squirrel body complete with a fluffy tail.

Carlisle student Hanna Lyle, also a 10th-grader, said she wasn’t thinking about the plot of the movie at all when she created her clay character. That’s what made it interesting when everyone started trying to figure out where and why all those random characters would be together in one story, she said.

“It was way better than anything you could come up with on your own .... it was a huge collaborative effort,” Lyle said.

Making the characters first forced the kids to get more creative with the plot, said McKenzie, chairman of the art department and an art teacher at Flint Hill School in Fairfax County. Beginning the process with characters “makes them think more creatively” than if they came up with a story before creating the clay characters, she said.

The students eventually decided that the collection of clay aliens, students, teachers, a dog and random pedestrians were most likely all together at an airport. According to their movie, while heading for a class trip to Jamaica, Mr. K received an unpleasant surprise when he attempted to go through a metal detector.

The squirrel-alien mischievously pushed an ominous red button, and Mr. K was turned into a large green alien. Luckily, the Jamaican employee of the airline hosed him down with “magic,” and he returned to normal, although he was left with one normal arm and the other an alien one.

For the animating of the three-minute movie, Morgan said the students discussed the plot and then instructed him on what the characters should be doing in each scene. Then Morgan animated the characters by moving them in small increments and taking a picture with his video camera after each movement.

The result was stop-motion animation, or claymation, that was created entirely in the video camera. No editing was required, so once the animating was finished, the students had only to hook the camera up to a monitor and begin doing voice-overs.

Miranda Givens, a 10th-grader at MHS, said she thought the voice-overs were the best part. In addition to putting voices to the characters, students also had to provide sound effects, such as the sound of Mr. K being turned into an alien.

Jordan Anderson, a senior at MHS, said the voice-overs were something new to him. Anderson plans to study film in college and knows quite a bit about live-action filming, but he said he had never experienced claymation before.

It was a different experience, but it still used “the same creative process of developing the story,” Jordan said.

All the students who participated will receive a copy of the three-minute movie, and from there, their flick could make it to Hollywood — or maybe just online to YouTube.

“It deserves to go viral,” said Elizabeth of the movie’s potential future as an online phenomenon.


Select News Year: