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Learn Movie Making with Stop Motion Animation Kit


Nate and Ryan Eckerson
Twelve Stones Research
www.twelvestonesresearch.com or www.nr-productions.com

PO Box 967
North Dighton, MA 02764


This review is for the Learn Movie Making with Stop Motion Animation Kit. It comes with a camera and software animation program. The components are also available separately, but for the purpose of this review we will make references to the kit as a whole. The kit includes a 156-page spiral bound manual with glossy cover in a handy 5 x 8 inch size, a camera, and a CD-rom with a stop motion animation program which includes video and sound editing tools and sound effects. The manual begins with descriptions for various animation, including puppet, object, pixilation, papermation, and sand & paint animation, then continues through twelve additional chapters covering everything from what you need to get started, to sets, lighting, adding sound, editing using Windows Movie Maker, special effects, and video files and formats. The camera boasts a built-in JPEG compression, 640x480 resolution at 30 frames per second, 10x digital zoom, camera adjustments (white balance, saturation, gamma, and more), full screen 800 x 600 display, USB interface with Plug and Play, Lens Focus from 3 cm to infinity, and the ability to capture still pictures and motion video. The CD-rom is tucked in the back of the manual in a clear plastic sleeve and includes the Stop Motion Animation program (also called SMA) and the open-source program called Audacity, which is used for both recording and editing sounds. Additional necessary items include a computer (Windows XP is recommended, but many of the suggestions can be done with Windows 98-second edition), a sound recording program (likely already built into your computer), a video editor (Windows Movie Maker is also often on your computer), a set and characters, quality lighting, and lastly, a few household items that will be helpful set up conveniences you may want handy. We note that a Mac computer is acceptable for use with this kit, but the included software CD is only for Windows. A set and characters may be as simplistic or as involved as you desire and may include lego blocks and/or people, play-doh, sand, toy cars, clay, wooden trains, etc.; a set may be a simple white bed sheet and poster board background or an entirely built and detailed scene of your choice appropriate for your movie. Lighting is essential and should include three lights; one for shining on the background, and two pointing down on the set, one from the right and one from the left. Clip lamps will easily fulfill the adjustments necessary for a three point lighting set up, but the manual warns to be wary of lamps that become very hot with extended use as you may be adjusting them often. You should also account for the type of set and characters in use as plastics will melt, and should be careful to turn all lamps off when finished. Possible set up tools include tape, blue-tac (for securing characters), tweezers (for detail set adjustments), poster board for background, and items for adjusting the height and angle of your camera or set (books, wood blocks, rubber bands). The complete Learn Movie Making with Stop Motion Animation Kit is designed to assist the user in better understanding movie making and includes a brief history of animation and how movies work, along with thorough vocabulary throughout the manual.

Used as a tool to create movies in miniature using a broad range of materials for characters and sets, as endless as the ideas the user may imagine, the kit will turn ideas into real animated movies with instructions for each step of the process. The manual walks the user through each step, while the included Stop Motion Animation program provides an easy to use tool to capture and manipulate shots. The manual begins with an introduction and description of how the book works. Written in a user friendly style for those with basic computer experience, the book states that: "if you can open, edit, and save a document in a text editor, you are fully capable of completing any task in this book." Knowledge of organizing files into folders and installing software from a CD is also necessary. Users with digital camera and image-editing experience will have a head start on those who have none, but it is not at all necessary. Throughout the manual, words found in bold print will have a definition box in the same chapter with greater explanation for the term in relation to stop animation and movie making. The chapters include information on how movies work with a short history, including description of "persistence of vision" and its use in the Thaumatrope, Zoetrope, Praxinoscope, and their effect on the movie projector. Illustrations of the referenced inventions and still shots from early movies are included in the manual as it describes the progression of the craft from the very first special effects, to hand-drawn "cel" animation, like Disney, to television shows like "Gumby" and "Bob the Builder." Even more recent movies, like "Chicken Run", continue to use stop-motion animation in professional filmmaking. The descriptions of the various types of animation will help the user determine what medium they plan to use for their own project; puppets, objects, pixilation (where people act like living armatures moving one frame at a time), papermation or "cutout animation," and sand & paint animation, are each described, briefly educating the user and enabling them to choose the initial material for the first movie.

The following chapters walk through the process of actual filming, with screen shots from the SMA computer program and definitions and terms to explain the entire process. The creation of stories is approached with encouragement toward script writing beforehand and preparing for a few practice movies to learn the basics of the program and process. A sample format of a screenplay is provided as is an explanation of story boarding with an included example. Building a good set is approached by chapter four and includes explanation of indoor and outdoor sets along with a few of the pros and cons of each. Separate chapters for lighting and setting up your camera follow with tips on securing the necessary components for filming, plus information on the use of digital video cameras, analog camcorders, and digital still cameras, including explanation of the various cable hook ups and help with problems often encountered when using these tools. The actual animation instructions follow with a quick start rundown followed by greater detail about the process. Adding sound and editing continues afterward, with instruction for use of Windows Movie Maker, importing video and sounds, making a timeline, and cutting and splitting the movie to obtain your desired results. Even editing tips and tricks and instructions for successfully exporting are included, as are function shortcut keystrokes and information on copyright infringement. The final chapters include instruction on video files and formats and the use of VirtualDubMod for simple editing. The manual is very thorough in its compact size, additionally, the website (www.nr-productions.com) includes a support section with reference to common questions and a blog filled with movie making ideas, tips, and trouble shooting if you desire further information and encouragement. This is a kit ideal for students capable of utilizing digital photography and filming materials and may be appropriate for some older elementary students when proficiency is evident. It is certainly ideal for a high school filming course as it includes screen writing, story boarding, set design and building, computer editing, and more. Visual students will enjoy tremendously the use of the Stop Motion Animation Kit as a tool to create movies, including those with an educational purpose, as they put their imagination to great use and increase their movie making knowledge.

Our family thoroughly enjoyed using the Stop Motion Animation Kit and we were making "shorts" of a few minutes within a half an hour of installing the computer program and plugging in the included camera. Installation is fairly quick and easy, although it does include additional components if you are using the support programs in the kit, which requires reading multiple user agreements. Even with the extra time to get the editing and sound software installed, we were actively filming and moving our little play-doh creations very quickly and could instantly watch the results. I will note that the kit comes with special instruction about using the program with Windows XP after installation, requiring the user to open the installed software by right clicking on the icon and choosing "Run as administrator" rather than the standard left click option for most programs. We used the program with Windows XP and had no difficulty opening the program, but we had to remember to right click correctly or it will not run successfully. Generally playing around in the recording system is fairly straightforward and the manual includes screen shots of the "grab" process of filming repeatedly with adjusted movements over a period of time to achieve the animation intended by the filming. My digital camera savvy daughter was much quicker to understand and implement the process than I was when it came to the more detailed issues of frames per second and understanding just how many "grabs" it would take to complete a three minute versus a fifteen minute movie, but the manual guided me successfully as a camera novice. The information regarding size of video files and compression was incredibly helpful and the manual walks you through the steps of adjusting compression so the sizing of files is not an impossible process. I was quickly lost without the use of the manual, I would encourage using the kit with the quick start information in order to get a feel for the process and then returning to the manual to more thoroughly educate yourself. The manual includes a great deal of information to guide you through the entire process and the successful completion of a movie, but you'll need to take the time to read it through, especially if you are utilizing the kit as an educational tool for coursework. Learning the computer skills included in the use of the Stop Motion Animation Kit will increase overall computer literacy as well as movie making ability. Extra details like the information regarding copyright infringement and the use of music on family videos for home use or sharing on the internet was educational and had greater value beyond the simple making of these movies for our children uploading music files or trading home movies with friends. We checked many of the links included in the manual and found them to be valid at the time of this review.

A broad range of home schools will enjoy the use of this kit for the obvious reasons of visual stimulation, successful planning, the inclusion of writing skills for screen plays and simple dialogue, craftsman skills of building simple or elaborate sets, and more. There are truly endless ways to utilize this kit to further the educational aspects of your home school. Some of our ideas include: elaborate set design and implementation from start to finish building all of the necessary props, older children or parents filming mathematical problems, the use of story boards as a combination of writing and art, comparison of Shakespearean works and filming a favorite scene with lego men, studying the writing of a screenplay and completing one for the family, studying the extensive vocabulary included in the manual and explaining the process of film making, utilization of puppetry in film making with a movie of a well known fairy tale, filming in multiple short groups of clips the completion of an art project to present in "fast forward" how the project came to its conclusion while keeping a permanent record of the project, combine film and still photography with a movie taken from old still photos in albums to tell the story of your family, use matchbox cars to present driving technique to supplement a driver's education course, or our favorite, film self care skills using Barbie dolls for special needs children needing assistance to grasp daily routines or social skills. Imagine simple preschool and elementary mathematics skills presented using any household items or a particular favorite toy for a given child struggling with understanding the concepts, or as a reward for completion of written work. From simple addition and subtraction of objects disappearing and reappearing to represent solutions, to more advanced mathematical concepts of mass and volume. Presenting a visual representation of the concepts by filling small cylinders, combining contents into larger cylinders, and then having the students write down the problem as presented will help solidify otherwise abstract concepts for students struggling to understand them. Social skills may be taught by having a student play out a particular social story using favorite stuffed animals or dolls of choice, providing a short film for special needs children that may be reviewed as necessary to practice appropriate social behavior. This filming kit will allow families to utilize the knowledge of older students by having them film various presentations for younger students so that everyone is learning while supporting one another. And the actual filming is a lot of fun and leaves an incredible amount of possibility for a child's imagination to grow and expand as they learn.

Some of the comments in the manual are unnecessary as an owner of the kit because all of the items are included, it comes across as bragging or some kind of hype when the book tells you the things you need and then adds that you won't need that as long as you bought their kit. We understand the manual may be used outside the realm of customers buying this kit, but predominantly it is kit owners who are using the manual, we didn't need to be told repeatedly how great it is that we already have everything necessary to accomplish stop motion animation--it is exactly why we bought the kit. The chapters of the manual are not numbered in the contents, so you'll need to count them out to find the referenced chapter and note them accordingly. We also found it frustrating when the manual would reference a particular chapter but not include the page numbers to make it easier to flip over to a particular page, which was only compounded by the lack of formally numbered chapters. Our children also took a little bit of motivating to see the many ways we could use this for enjoyment or education, as they are of the fast paced, video playing, always moving generation, the idea of "Stop Motion" anything took some getting used to. The included camera does work well for the task at hand and the manual includes tips on using existing cameras, if preferred, but it did get frustrating to securely mount the camera to avoid jumps and distortions during the filming process. The manual is straightforward about this problem and demonstrates the use of rubber bands and tape to work through these issues. Organization is also strongly encouraged as a necessity for success for stop motion animation as the many video and sound files will need to be well organized in order to gather together a well planned finished project. We preferred short movies over trying to gather any lengthy film from the start, but continue to work on a longer actual movie for the family and have found that it can be time consuming. It is exciting to work toward a finished project and watch the popular "Bob the Builder" and "Wallace and Grommit" style shows using this type of film making as it encourages our children to complete a hard earned project.

Learn Movie Making with Stop Animation is an excellent tool for home schools and will help your budding movie maker truly blossom into film making. The price of $69 is excellent for the incredible information included in the manual and the opportunity to flush out the gifts and talents of your children in this area, while enjoying the simple pleasure of making small movies. The miniature size inherent in working with a stop animation set is ideal for home use as a space inside of a closet, under a table, or in an out of the way corner of a basement can be ideally suited for occasional filming on a week by week basis of class time without disrupting the set. Imagination is paramount and makes the finished project uniquely their own, as students write, plan, and carry out a desired movie. The kit may be used by a group of students from a coop, a range of ages in a large family, or very successfully by a single student finishing every aspect of the project on their own because of the simple step-by-step process. Additional information and support is available through the internet on the company blog, www.nr-productions.com/blog/, providing assistance and incredible ideas for film makers of all ages. Students will learn simple writing of screenplays, use of story boards, set building, lighting, and of course, camera use, all while having a great time designing their own movies. In today's world of fast moving video games and constant visual input, an educational activity that requires the careful step by step movement of small objects to achieve a planned goal is a wonderful way to increase a child's self control, patience, organization, and planning ability while providing a fantastic finished project they will enjoy for years. And our incredibly computer literate children quickly pass their own film creations on to friends and family for their enjoyment. Set your children up with an incredible opportunity to wield their imaginations with the Learn Movie Making with Stop Animation Kit and prepare to reveal a world all their own as they write, produce, film, edit, and complete their very own movie creation.



Product Review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, February, 2009


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