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Buyer's guide to animation software

Posted on 17 Jul 2012 at 11:27

3D isn’t the right choice across all age ranges, however. Most 3D animation packages have a complex range of tools, and may be overwhelming for primary schools looking for something a little simpler to use. Secondary school students, however, may thrive on the greater complexity. You may not end up with a Pixar Studios in your school, but you can achieve brilliant results.

Working in stop-motion

You’ll need plenty of space and time if working in stop-motion, since the process itself is time-consuming and there needs to be room for sets, figures, webcams and children. Working in groups can make the process quicker, with a student pressing the frame button while others move the figures. A good-quality and stable webcam will save unwanted camera movement, but in the unfortunate event of a mishap, an “onion skin” tool – it shows you an overlay of previous frames – will prove indispensable.

For all the effort, the benefits of stop-motion animation make it worthwhile. It’s a good way to marry the more technical challenges of ICT with the kind of simple, hands-on crafting that anyone can enjoy. As Year 6 primary school teacher Mr Boult explains: “I want to make sure the children can work in groups – important when doing creative work. I want the software to be easy to use so I can watch them create things they can be proud of with little supervision. Stop-frame animation is the best way to achieve this since it’s easy to use, hands-on and looks great when finished.”

2D animation software traditionally adopts a keyframe approach borrowed from traditional hand-drawn animation, where the animator draws or positions objects in the most significant frames – the keyframes – and the software works out the frames in-between. This is an easy way to create engaging animations, particularly as you can use pre-made effects including rotation, scaling and flying in and out. If you do, there’s a danger that the results can look like a well-made PowerPoint presentation; but pre-made effects can simplify the process, rendering it more accessible for younger students, while older ones get stuck in with customisation and in-depth keyframe editing. This will be more time-consuming, but it’s the best way to get a more organic outcome.

When making a decision on which animation software to thrust into the classroom, the interface and the available tools will be pivotal to its success. It’s all very well having an advanced set of features, but if those features are hidden, badly implemented or incomprehensible, they won’t get any use. You also need to think about the hardware you have available. A 3D package will require more processing power than a 2D package, so you need to make sure that the PCs at your disposal are up to the job.

Prepare to have fun

Storyboarding is recommended when you’re animating. It makes the class think about what they’re doing and enables them to plan, and it can save time when working out how many frames it may take for a few seconds of movement. If the program uses a range of frame rates, this process can be a great tool – not only for animating, but also for maths. It’s also important that students grasp the concept of a timeline: it’s seen in all animation packages and is vital to understanding the basics of how animation works. If the timeline is easy to see and manipulate then creating and changing each frame becomes less laborious.

When the movie is finished there are many ways to make the animation better. One is video editing, particularly if you’re working with stop-motion. It helps youcutouterrorsandsmoothoverany cracks, and if the program includes good editing facilities then it’s going to do a better job. You can always export the final movie to add sound effects, titles, transitions and effects is another package, but this adds more work to the project. Luckily, the best animation packages have strong video- and audio-editing facilities, sound-effects libraries and the ability to record audio into the program – all built in.

Most of all, animation should be fun. It’s a great way to combine ICT learning with artistic endeavours, and you’ll be amazed by the crazy worlds and stories that students can come up with when their imaginations are given free rein.

Author: Jay Stansfield

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