Students at St. Marys Catholic Elementary School let their imaginations run wild as they recently created various stop motion animation videos as part of a four-week artist in residency program.
Visiting artist Annie Schmitt of Box of Light Studios in Erie worked primarily with fifth-graders during their science, art and periodic reading classes as they incorporated their knowledge of the solar system into short videos.
Stop motion animation is currently one of the hottest areas of film-making and entails recording an object or subject, frame by frame, every time it is adjusted at small increments. This causes the illusion of movement when all the frames are played continuously.
"Our mission is using art and science for experiential learning. Doing something with the solar system was the perfect topic because it just lends itself so well to visuals," Schmitt said.
The 30 videos may be viewed at www.boxoflight.org. Click on the purple 'videos' tab on the toolbar, then choose 'your videos' and select the group St. Marys.
Schmitt noted the website saw some of its highest traffic shortly after the videos were posted.
The process began with students practicing animation, recording camera shots, making digital books, researching plants and recording original music with student songs featured in small clips in some of the videos.
"We went through the whole process of what professionals do to make movies by creating storyboards, making concept art and writing scripts, all in preparation for the final project," Schmitt said.
Some of the popular stop motion animation films have been "The Nightmare Before Christmas", "James and the Giant Peach", "Frankenweenie", "Corpse Bride", "Coraline", "Fantastic Mr. Fox", and "Wallace and Gromit".
Schmitt also conducted presentations with other classes in found object animation. Students used found classroom objects, such as a stapler, tape dispenser and more, as the feature of the video and added sound effects to complete short movies.
Each of the fifth grade's 31 students were separated into group of two to three students for their project. The groups could choose to work on a live or stop action movie, with most groups choosing to do both projects. The live action project consisted of one to two students playing the role of newscasters while the stop action required a camera person and someone to move their handmade clay objects around from spot to spot.
"This packed a lot into a small amount of time, but it worked out great," Schmitt said.
She worked with the fifth grade on a daily basis throughout the duration of her residency.
At the start of the residency Schmitt said she had a basic curriculum outline and knew the teachers wanted to make movies about the solar system.
"Other than that it was kind of working day-to-day on where the kids were and what they needed to learn next in terms of the visual arts side and the science side," Schmitt said.
At the conclusion of Schmitt's residency she conducted a presentation in the gymnasium where she demonstrated stop motion animation. Six students sat in chairs as she positioned herself in the middle of them. Another student snapped 10 photos on an iPad during each of the group's small movements. The photos were then merged together through a software program to create a short video.
"Stop motion animation has that magic to it where you can make things happen that wouldn't happen in real life. It's a lot less resource intensive when you're trying to build an entire set instead of shooting an entire movie outside," Schmitt said. "We were able to do it and stay relatively contained and still make anything they want to happen, happen."
The artist in residency idea stemmed from SMCE art teacher Cathy Zore and Megan Ambrose, music teacher. The pair approached the Elk County Council on the Arts (ECCOTA) after attending an open house event for teachers which featured Rand Whipple of Box of Lights Studios. The event highlighted the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA), Arts in Education residency program, which was established in 1995, and whose goal it is to have a residency in every county of the state every year. All residencies are funded through the PCA who receives a portion of their funding from state dollars.
"We try and put on events where schools can see a showcase of the different artists because other artists do other things like literary work, visual arts such as painting, dance, music and even a hula hoop artist," Peters said. "There are all different art forms that are really infused into the curriculum so that it's not just supposed to be an add-on to art class. It's suppose to be art in your core class."
This funding is available to public and private schools, childcare centers, senior centers and other not-for-profit, tax-exempt organizations as well as units of government in Pennsylvania.
Zore and Ambrose said they were interested in hosting a resident artist who specialized in digital arts.
Schmitt was chosen as Box of Light Studios is part of ArtsErie Artist in Residency roster.
ArtsErie acts as a partner for 11 counties to make sure each county has a residency. ECCOTA partners with ArtsErie by helping facilitate residencies in five of those counties and acts as a field assistant to help connect the artists and the schools by observing the project and checking in on their progress and any needs they may have.
Every year there is a residency somewhere in Elk, Cameron, McKean and Potter counties.
Former residencies were at SMCE and Francis S. Grandinetti Elementary School in Ridgway where Dave Poland of New York worked with students in creating bronze statues; at St. Marys Catholic Middle School where local author PJ Piccirillo worked with a muralist where students researched their personal history and heritage depicted through stories on the mural; and at Ridgway Area High School last year where students did a mural with artist Tom Ferraro.
SMCE was Schmitt's second residency, although it was her first as a solo artist. Together with her husband the couple runs the Erie studio where they offer classes in digital arts, animation, film, robotics and most recently incorporating the environmental education.
Previously Schmitt has worked in environmental education and agricultural mainly
consisting of teaching garden photography. One of her upcoming projects entails hatching butterflies and praying mantis then completing a claymation video to show their life cycles. She has been working in digital arts for the past two years.
"I think all learning is connected so whenever you're really able to infuse the arts into other topic areas the kids remember it better because they're having fun so they retain the information and have something else to show for what they did and present that to an audience," Schmitt said.
Schmitt emphasized a big piece of a residency is to train teachers in some of the art forms so they continue to use them. While at SMCE she conducted a professional development with some of the iPad apps for all the teachers.
One of SMCE's fourth-grade teachers has expressed interest in creating digital books as a future class project.
"A big goal of the residency is to have teachers learning from artists and artists learning from teachers so that its really a collaboration to make the curriculum stronger," Peters added.
"It was fun. Just the people here are phenomenal and the resources that the school has in tech support just made everything really, really smooth," Schmitt said of her SMCE residency.