Artful Conversations || Animation for Children: David Ehrlich and the Cleveland Museum of Art Workshop

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  • National Art Education Association

    Animation for Children: David Ehrlich and the Cleveland Museum of Art WorkshopAuthor(s): Linda C. EhrlichSource: Art Education, Vol. 48, No. 2, Artful Conversations (Mar., 1995), pp. 23-24+33-36Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3193510 .Accessed: 15/06/2014 09:37

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  • Animation for Children:

    David Ehrlich

    modeled form of animation, the condummercial marketplace, yet the ptervasiveness of film and televihsion make it the

    popular art Cleveland Museum that children in the 20th

    THE CHILDREN'S WORKSHOP

    Even befost re the museum ofntly, attention has focused, on computer animation.s weThe waiting in equipment and the lobby,

    and rela techniques are ore accessible, and often more engaging, though they require the patience of a saint and the eye of a visionary. A three-minute film can use as many as 3000 drawings, each one drawn with great care t for in e t s ingefore the eye like a scene glimpsed from a moving traln.

    In August 1993,1 observed and participated in workshops in this traditional hand-drawn and hand- modeled form of animation, conducted by the internationally known animator David Ehrlich at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio.3

    Even before the museum officially opened, 21 eager young animators were waiting in the lobby, clutching notebooks. For the next two hours, they were free to create their own world on paper, page by

    BY LINDA C. EHRLICH2

    MARCH 1995 / ART EDUCATION

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  • page, and to watch it move beyond their expectations.

    In his workshops for children, David Ehrlich teaches sequential (serial) thinking, a sense of persistence, analy- sis, and synthesis of new concepts, and, perhaps most importantly, spontaneity. Using flip-books (small bound pads that can be flipped) and animation books (larger note pads on which can be drawn a series of pictures), the children get a good sense of how perspective systems work, and how shapes are transformed.

    During the first day of the workshop, students listen to a general (but brief explanation by Ehrlich of basic animation theory and practice. (He aims to keep abstract discussion to a minimum with the children.) While showing them filmed sequences from work by other children and by established animators, he sometimes pro- jects the films first at normal speed and then at four frames per second to demonstrate how movement is broken down. Figure 2 Ehrlich instructs the students to keep all the changes from one drawing to the next very small, with movement occurring in a basically smooth arc.

    Animation relies for its effect on the capacity of the brain to synthesize indi- vidual images into a continuous sequence-a phenomenon popularity known as persistence of vision. After experimenting with some of the earlier devices for illustrating persistence of vision, such as the thaumatrope and Zoetrope, the students get the chance to produce a sustained series of draw- ings.4 Using flip-books, the children fol- low Ehrlich's instructions to first create line drawings of a moving circle. The

    circle format is a "democratizing force" that allows all students to begin on the same level; new "creatures" emerge as the circle is subtly varied. Only later are individual strengths in drawing dis- played.

    Once the flipbooks are completed, Ehrlich asks the children to create as many "original" characters as they can. From the beginning, he insists that the children create their own styles and not copy from characters they have seen on television or in comic strips. Not only might copying constitute a copyright

    violation, it would also tend to stifle the child's sense of the value of personal design. Ehrlich reminds the children to think with their eyes and hands, and not worry about planning everything in advance.

    The children are then encouraged to animate their favorite character in the larger animation book. Ehrlich occa- sionally circles the room, checking for breaches of continuity in the drawings, adding extra pages where the "jumps" in the action are too extreme, remind- ing the children that margins must be left so the figure does not disappear when filmed (Figure 1). By the end of the second class, the children have their characters moving facial features,

    arms, and legs. Ehrlich then encour- ages them to think about who their characters are, and about what the characters feel, think, want. The answers to those questions will deter- mine the events to take place in the film. The children then can introduce second or even third characters, and backgrounds may be added as needed for narrative and atmosphere.

    By the fourth or fifth class, the last stage begins: the laborious coloring of the same object on each page to ensure continuity when filmed. Ehrlich cau-

    tions the children to keep the backgrounds white, and to keep as much of the object white as possible, because of time limitations. Most of the children heed this advice, but the more determined ones color in waves or trees or large buildings in the background. In one child's animated sequence, "A Seal's Revenge," a purple seal on a rock leaps into the water with an enormous blue splash, and finally catches a green octopus.

    All of the children in the Cleveland workshop are focused on their work, without taking much time to look around to compare their pictures with those of their neighbors. An occa- sional thrown paper wad, or fit of gig- gles, helps the students let off steam without fundamentally breaking the overall mood of concentration. A sense of fun and urgency fills the room, and the tables shake with the intensity of hands drawing (Figure 2). Each child becomes immersed in the creation of an imaginary world, and with bringing it to movement and life. When the two- hour session is over, pads and pencils are taken home, often for more hours of

    (Continued on page 33)

    ART EDUCATION / MARCH 1995

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  • (Continuedfrom page 24)

    work. Title pages are added as the last step in the drawing process.

    A small-group exercise in claymation at the end of the workshop gives the children a chance to unwind, to build fanciful figures, and practice moving and filming them frame-by- frame (Figure 3). For younger students [K-4], clay animation is particularly effective. A sense of relief and exhilaration fills the Cleveland Museum of Art workshop during this project. The group exercise helps the children practice leadership skills and a division of labor, with one child chosen for the "high-status," but easy, job of photographer, while the others are put in charge of moving an individual clay figure of their own design (Figure 4).

    In longer workshops, Ehrlich encourages the children to explore the transformational qualities in the clay.

    They might begin a story with a human figure that becomes fearful, changing it into a little mouse, while the clay background of the room might simultaneously change into a mousetrap. Or, in a "round-robin transformation," one child at a time would begin with the last child's figure, slowly transforming it into something else. One child might begin with a clay portrait of a human head, slowly opening and closing the mouth. The next child then could gradually transform the head into an apple tree, for example, that would drop apples on the ground. The next child could transform the tree into an animal's head and the apples into little gremlins. (Personal correspondence, 1993)

    Later, in a markedly different mood, Ehrlich sits alone in a room that is dark except for the light next to the Super-8 camera, filming each book page by page. After the (unfortunately) lengthy

    Figure 3.

    process of getting Super-8 film developed and transferred to video, each child will receive a copy of the collected animated sequences from the workshop.5 Ehrlich reports: "Children are typically delighted with the results of their efforts. They have accepted on faith that their fragmented drawings will move as single flowing units once they are on film, and children are truly excited to see that what they worked so hard on really does turn out wonderfully."6

    How have these few hours devoted to animation enriched these children's experience of art? On one level, the children have begun to feel "at home" in one of the world's great art museums. The animation workshops can also be seen as building on three major goals of general art education:

    .... i Figure 4.

    "creating art, looking at art, and living with art."7 While creating their own brief animated sequences, the children are engaged in looking at the art around them (in the workshop room and in the museum at large). Mary Erickson recommends that, for young children, attention should be directed toward subject matter and technical production details.8 A thorough understanding of the nature of sequential movement, and an awareness of how to bring this about in a creative fashion, are essential elements of this kind of "hands-on" activity.

    THE FINISHED PRODUCTS The results of the Cleveland

    Museum of Art workshops were delightful. 'The only difference between kids and adults in film animation is some technical background," Ehrlich comments.

    MARCH 1995 / ART EDUCATION

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  • 'The coloring is just as good and the imagination is much higher."9 Among the Cleveland children's films the following especially caught my eye: In "L.M. Foot's Adventures," a man is pulled up into the clouds by a marvelous flying machine but then literally "explodes" in excitement. One of the older girls made "Rainy Day," in which a dark-haired young girl (very much like herself) is standing contentedly, arms folded, until she looks up and notices raindrops coming down-then not just raindrops but, quite literally, cats and dogs! As the cats exit stage right, the girl and dogs become friends. In "A Cheezy Adventure," a dancing triangle of cheese with flirtatious eyes is unceremoniously chased off the page by a mouse with a fork in its tail. A friendlier encounter occurs in "Fuzzy Friends" in which a green monster with expressive eyes befriends a purple dog. In an unexpected transformation, the dog's legs start to elongate until it assumes the height and shape of the monster. As a grand finale, the "faces" of the two figures are obscured by a red heart. These examples show how well the children have assimilated the sense of "closure" of classical cartoons.

    Several marked contrasts are evident between the boys' and girls' designs, mirroring the way the children tended to situate themselves during the workshop around "boys' tables" and "girls' tables". While the boys tend to focus on the more destructive forces: axes swinging through space ("Axer and Wolff"), ferocious dogs, two- headed monsters with enormous orange tongues, futuristic townscapes ("Zonk") and, of course, dinosaurs, the girls tend toward images of harmony and Nature. Among the boys' group

    there are exceptions to reliance on violent scenes: one of the older boys, with an advanced sense of design, produced the whimsical "Australian Outback," in which the head of a sausage-shaped cowboy figure changes expression, from grimace to smile. His hat falls over his eyes, and then he whistles for his horse, which nuzzles closer. Another boy produced a rather self-mocking vignette called 'Trevor" in which a boy with a bow tie, preening for his date, falls into a puddle as the girl appears (from the sky down!). All is not lost, however, because in the end they go off together, smiling.

    Ehrlich generally discourages violence in the children's animation sequences, allowing images of limited violence only if they are non-imitative and serve some unique purpose. Inspired by the quick laughs earned by violent sequences on Saturday morning cartoons, the less imaginative boys in particular tend to insert a stick of dynamite or dagger into their drawings when they run up against obstacles. Other children find more inventive ways to wrap up their stories, as in "Goofy Pals" in which one dog tips a fishbowl over the head of another, but justice is restored in the end with the first dog wearing the fishbowl on his head. In this way, the children display both their ingenuities, and their new- found powers to control a world of their own making.

    THE TEACHERS' WORKSHOP In contrast to the childrens'

    workshop, the all-day Saturday workshop for teachers is more subdued. Analytical discussions, punctuated with practical exercises in flip-books, storybooks, etc., occupy the

    five hours. Gone is the sense of infectious excitement that filled the room full of children, but there is the chance to discuss practical details of the difficulty of finding and repairing Super-8 cameras, and the problems of finding film stock for those cameras and of developing it in a time period of less than two weeks. The teachers' workshop also included discussions of the difficulty of filming animation with a video camera, since most reasonably priced video cameras can only take a series of 4-5 frames in a burst and are therefore incapable of smooth single- frame filming.

    In his teachers' workshops, Ehrlich offers tips about ways to integrate the animation project into the class curriculum (in science, geography, foreign languages, history). Not only can animation be useful as a diagnostic tool for such problems as dyslexia, it can also be useful in teaching concepts in mathematics or physics. Ehrlich has noted:

    An ice-cream cone thrown at a Martian should obey laws of gravity in order to look right. A...