UNION CITY, PennsylvaniaThe shower scene from "Psycho." Sylvester Stallone running up the stairs in "Rocky." The "Home Alone" hero setting a booby trap for the bumbling burglars. Such classic movie moments "are etched into the memories of the general population," says art teacher Kristine Fontes, and speak volumes about the power of imagery to tell a story.
In a Union City High School course designed to teach advanced graphic design skills, Fontes brainstormed with her students about ideas for creating computer animations. She explains: "After tossing around several ideas, we decided to concentrate on famous moments in movie history. This decision was made after a discussion on a scene in "The Exorcist," where the child spins her head around completely. That would be fun to animate."
Students had no trouble coming up with movie scenes to animate, but were stumped when it came to selecting building materials for making characters and sets. Fontes relates the decision-making process: "We tried clay. Too messy and too difficult for all of the students to work with. We tried making characters out of colored craft wire, thinking the figures would be able to bend easily. But the figures were top-heavy and unable to stand on their own." A boy named Max suggested using Legos*. "The next day he brought in a box of Legos from home and began to build a set." As a test, he built a model of a skateboarder taking a "nose slide" down a metal handrail next to a flight of steps. Using the teacher's digital camera and a memory card, the student began shooting individual still shots of the character moving through the set.
While Max was busy shooting his stills, Fontes turned to the Internet in search of animation resources. "On a whim, I entered 'Lego animations' on a search engine and was amazed at the number of links returned. Evidently there is a huge underground of Lego animators!" At a site called Brickfilms, (http://pub179.ezboard.com/bbrickfilmsforums*), she discovered a gold mine of technical and how-to information. She downloaded some short films as examples "and used them to motivate the class. These films are funny, well-crafted, and inspiring."
Before students started filming their own movie moments, they first had to complete a storyboard, outlining the sequence of the animation. "The storyboard included the necessary props, music, and beginning and ending credits," Fontes says. Once filming was completed, students moved on to the task of computer editing, including "in-and-out points, frame rate, and transitions." Theme songs proved important, too. "These themes were integral to our movies as we were not using dialogue."
Because Lego animation was new to students and teacher alike, the class learned techniques together. "The students would discover a new feature and share it with their classmates and me. The entire process consumed us," Fontes says. "Those around us probably thought we were nuts." They spent an entire day sorting Legos by color. On her own time one weekend, the teacher was thrilled to find "a real treasure: 'girl' Legos! Every day in class was exciting. I couldn't wait for the class to begin, and hated when it ended," Fontes adds.