Before I started, I did a little research into available programs for art, sound and animation. There aren't a lot of solid applications freely available, but here are the ones that I found to be interesting:
- ArtRage - beautiful digital oil painting
- Pivot - stick figure animation (very addictive)
- Scratch - visual programming of sprites from MIT (essentially visual logo)
- Microsoft Movie Maker - simple track-based video and audio compositing
I found one sound effects generator but haven't found the perfect sound effects program appropriate for these kids. Yesterday I found Reaper, a full featured audio track and effects program - it looks wicked cool, but complicated for gradeschoolers.
The kids have amazed me by picking it all up really quickly. Several of the kids already knew about the Pivot cell animation program, and others have already made stop motion animation with Legos, digital cameras and Microsoft Movie Maker. Normally I would have expected the boys to be the ones more into working with the computer, but in this class everybody is very excited and has been diving in. All the kids are trying their hand at different skills - some are more comfortable creating a background painting in ArtRage, but still make a go of animation in Pivot. Others quickly grabbed some background photos off the Web and brought them into Paint.net and faded them out to make a good background.
The teacher has told me that she has to shoo them out during recess because they'd rather work on their animations than play outside! Makes me feel so proud...
Right now I have them working on a project in teams of two. To explain why working in teams is a good thing to learn, I told them of time I visited Pixar and learned how they used teams - an 'artist' and an 'engineer'. They got a kick out of my describing walking the halls and looking at pencil sketches of a cowboy and a spaceman - I thought the movie idea was great but didn't know if it would have mass appeal. I still regret not having the gumption to ask for one of those sketches - I was so in awe of meeting Ed Catmull at the time, it was hard to speak! I'm sure I made a fool out of myself...
Recently I've thought about introducing the class to 3D graphics, but it can be very time consuming to create the models and I haven't found a good animation program for use with pre-existing models. I did recently download the personal edition of Maya, and maybe there's something in there but I'm guessing it'll be too much for the kids.