The beauty of creation

The beauty of creation

The beauty of creation

Teaching the Computer

This week, a group of 13-year-old students visited my studio. They were working on an assignment on the subject of the cinema. I showed them how I create animations through a combination of illustrations and software, and they were fascinated. I had to get on with my own work, so I accompanied them to the door. When they left, the person escorting them whispered to me, “Don’t think that this is normal for them, to see them concentrating for an hour and a half. I’m amazed.”

For us, as artists, what we do seems normal to us. We often forget what brought us to take up this occupation – how, as teenage boys and girls, we were captivated by the magic of animation, or the music, or the drawing. Since then we have grown up, and now we make a living from drawing things that are meant to be watched by people – and by teenage boys and girls. We tend to forget how much more interesting it is to create these things – rather than watching them and consuming them.

What stood out during the visit was the familiarity of these teenagers with the subject, and their willingness to learn. The asked practical questions that could be summed up as follows: “How can I produce an animation on my own?” I was, of course, pleased by this, and I told them about a number of online services that might interest them.

One of the animation programs that is most accessible to children is actually a software package intended for adults – an Israeli platform called Powtoon, which was designed for informational presentations. OK, you might not produce a “walking man” animation, and certainly not a 3D one – the program is simply not designed for these. But I believe that the group who came to seem me would be happy to discover how easy it is, with the aid of Powtoon, to depict characters, construct situations, add images, create some sort of movement, add a soundtrack, and upload the result to YouTube.

 Another service for producing animations is, which also allows people of all ages to create an illustrated movie from figures. In this case, the figures are more colorful and three-dimensional; they can walk, talk, and carry out a large number of other actions. You can build detailed environments, such as a street or a house, put objects (such as furniture) into the house, and construct a story with real content. Here too, it is the simplicity of the system that makes it so attractive, so inviting, that you really want to start producing something.

This reminds me of an old story. In the early days of educational software in Israel, a particular software package was developed (I’ve forgotten its name). What was unique about this program is that it looked at the relationship between the pupil and the computer in a way that was the reverse of the usual approach. Most courseware products present themselves as a collection of information that is supposed to be transmitted to the user. In this program, instead of the student being asked to learn from the computer, he was shown a game in which he had to teach an idiot computer, one that didn’t know anything. Not only did the student have to learn the material well in order to teach it to the computer – he also had to take on the role of the adult, as instructor, something rarely given to young people to do.

In a similar way, I see a great deal of potential in the creation of an animation as a learning assignment. Let’s think for a moment about an animation as a presentation: you need to plan it, write a script, add characters and voices – and the purpose is to tell a story or explain something. So, instead of telling students to learn something, you can ask them to create their own study materials.

I wonder how the assignment by the students who visited me turned out: were they able to present their subject matter by making use of the subject matter itself?