May St. students learn animation

‘Big Changes in our Schoolyard’

Doug Buckalew and Tyler McCrea, fifth-graders at May Street Elementary School, sat at a table last week with a lunchbox. Rather than food, however, this lunchbox contained a powerful computer that the students became adept at working after only a few minutes.

The lunchbox — officially called a LunchBox Sync — is a computer used for animation, and a group of 24 May Street fifth-graders have learned to use it over the past month as part of a special project that will culminate in an animated film created by the students.

The project is the conclusion of the year-long “schoolyard habitat” project spearheaded by artist Shelley Hight at May Street. The schoolyard habitat project has resulted in an outdoor biosphere that the students created and will maintain. It serves as a sort of outdoor “living” classroom at the school.

Kateri Osborne-Lohr, a technology specialist and former teacher, obtained a grant to finish off the schoolyard habitat project with an outreach effort that would show others how to create their own schoolyard habitats. The grant brought professional filmmaker Sharon Niemczyk of the Northwest Film Center in Portland to the school to help the students create their own animated film of the schoolyard habitat.

Called “Big Changes in Our School Yard,” the film will show the creation and maintenance of the habitat — all in an animated film lasting about eight minutes.

Last week, armed with a story board and sketches created by Osborne-Lohr, Hight and Niemczyk, students paired up to work on their assigned scenes with the filmmaker.

Niemczyk showed the students how to operate the lunchbox, and how moving the construction paper cutouts of people, birds and other items in their scene in small increments — and then capturing each small change with a computer snapshot — creates animation.

“This is exactly the process a professional animator would use,” Niemczyk said, as Buckalew and McCrea created a scene with a hummingbird flying to a feeder and drinking the liquid.

The students agreed that working as film animators was fun, but challenging.

“The hardest part is not moving (the paper) way too fast,” Buckalew said. The students finished up the “filming” last week. A rough cut of the film with no sound will be ready for them to view before school lets out next week. Over the summer, local musician Jon Cyparski will add music to the film — including the sounds of the Native American flute. Voices in the film include those of May Street Principal Dan Patton as himself, and retired environmental planner Jurgen Hess as Grandfather Tree — as well as several students.

Osborne-Lohr said the students will be invited back to the school in the fall for an open house and showing of the completed film. Each student will get a copy of the film, while additional copies will be sent to the Environmental Protection agency to satisfy a requirement of the schoolyard habitat grant. The film will also be available to other schools, and the Northwest Film Center plans to enter it in a contest for young filmmakers.

While creating the film has offered a unique learning opportunity for the students, Osborne-Lohr has continually stressed to them the point of making the film.

“The film’s message is to show off our habitat and encourage others to make one, too,” she said. She thinks the message got through to the young animators.

“They were not that jazzed about doing the artwork (for the scenes),” Osborne-Lohr said. “But when they actually put the artwork into animation, I think there was some ownership to it.”

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