Griswold Youth Center kids learn the art of stop-motion animation

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Fri., Nov. 22, 2013
4-H program coordinator Marc Cournoyer gives Austin Leep, 13, of Baltic, some help with his stop-action animated short film. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
4-H program coordinator Marc Cournoyer gives Austin Leep, 13, of Baltic, some help with his stop-action animated short film. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Board game pieces seem to come to life, Lego models appear to dance and a sandwich seems to make itself in some of the short animated films being made by young people at the Griswold Youth Center. The kids have been exploring the mysteries of stop-action animation in a six-week after-school program run by 4-H program coordinator Marc Cournoyer through the University of Connecticut.

Katelyn Norman, 9, was among the kids using a computer program to organize the 100-plus still photos she took of yogurt cups marching across a table. Each time she snapped a photo, she moved the yogurt cups a few centimeters, then took another picture. Some fake “spaghetti” eventually made an appearance, “and the meatballs kind of slide up to the plate," said Norman. Then at the end I added a juice box,” she said.

At the time, Katelyn was working on designing a movie title sequence and choosing music for a soundtrack. The finished film would be just about 10 seconds long.

Benjamin Niedjadlo, 14, trolled YouTube to find a catchy tune about a sandwich, which perfectly matched his film, in which pretend sandwich components – bread, lunch meat, cheese and lettuce – arranged themselves into a neat stack.

“It’s like the old claymation,” well-known from vintage TV shows like “Gumby” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Cournoyer said of the technique. “You move things ever so slightly in each shot.” Using the Windows Moviemaker function with very short time intervals for each image, “they’re turning them into a stop-motion video.” Eventually, he said, all the kids’ short animated pieces would be compiled into a single film and posted on YouTube.

Cournoyer said the students did their first experiments with play food that he brought in, to get a feel for the process. “Their homework was to go home and look up stop-motion movies,” he said. The kids were then encouraged to bring in or find their own materials to animate, with quirky results. “We had Lego characters, robots, Matchbox cars, and game pieces from the board games dancing on the pool table,” he said.

Cournoyer said that UConn’s 4-H programs are putting a heavy emphasis on STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math. The computer animation process feeds into that trend, he said. Next on the agenda is work with a green board, similar to those used in weather forecasting on television. “The kids will be able to put themselves into backgrounds,” he said.

Overhearing his remark, one of the kids exclaimed, “I know what I’m going to wear that day.”

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