Animating imaginary worlds kit index

Animating Imaginary Worlds: A Digital-Meets-Handmade Animation Workshop Kit

Lynn Tomlinson
Towson University

Diane Kuthy
Towson University

Contextual Essay: Imaginary Worlds

Curricular Kit

Accessible mobile apps put powerful but simple tools at students’ fingertips, and enables group collaboration and communication. Using tactile hand-made art with mobile phones and tablets as production tools recontexualizes these machines, to capitalize on learners' strengths, and begins to transform consumers into producers of new knowledge. Using accessible technologies creatively for classroom applications, students become more digitally literate and see themselves as actively engaged in creation and critical analysis. At the root of the term curriculum is "currere"(to run, flow, go quickly). We asked the participants to fearlessly experiment, adapt, combine, expand and "run with it" as they animate the curriculum in their varying educational contexts.

Teachers experiment with animation in small groups during workshop
Thomas Johnson, Jayne Schomann Rodriguez, Christine Stiver
Photographer: Hannah Simms.

Social Kit

The social kit for the project consisted of Lynn and Diane; Towson University Art Education and Electronic Media and Film students; public school art teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels from Baltimore city, Baltimore County, and Howard County; English teachers, a librarian, community artist educators, and all their K-12 age students.

Professional development for teachers is typically segregated by subject, grade level, experience and district. It is unusual to have city and county teachers working together, school based educators working with community folks, and seasoned educators collaborating with pre-service teachers, all representing a variety of grade levels and subject areas. Before the workshop, the teachers had a range of experience with animation and teaching in general which made a productive learning community in which they learned various skills from and with each other.

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991) argue that learning is not simply the transmission of decontextualized knowledge from one individual to another, but it is also a socially situated process whereby knowledge is co-constructed and embedded within a particular social community. Based on their study of craft apprenticeships they proposed a social theory of learning that emphasizes the way learners grow towards full participation and make a distinction between a learning curriculum based on the learner's standpoint and a teaching curriculum based on the educator's. They posit that the former is a more powerful and meaningful force for the learner. Expertise dwells in the overall organization of the community rather than in an individual. Learning comes from varied and multiple engagements in practice and has an improvised character. Knowledge often circulates quickly and effectively among peers and near-peers. Resources might include broad access to experts, historical artifacts and technologies, finished products, and more advanced peer students in the process of becoming full practitioners. Motivation, commitment and intensified effort evolve through increased participation developing a sense of identity as an expert practitioner.

Assembling the Kit

Lynn has led a number of Digital-Meets-Handmade animation workshop projects over that last decade to empower students of all ages in creating short animated films as a form of experiential learning. The workshops have varied over the years, based on technological changes, the setting and time dedicated to the project, and the age of the students, but they all have combined tactile components such as paper, paint, glue and thread with technology that is affordable, accessible, and easy to learn. These workshops build confidence in students who might classify themselves as technology-averse and at the same time encourage playful innovations in technologically advanced students resulting from the tactility of the materials.

Structured on an apprenticeship model, the teachers in the Animating Imaginary Worlds Workshop participated peripherally and then more fully in the practice of animating and finally creating animation experiences for their students. The two-day workshop began by learning about Lynn's personal evolution as an animator, historic and contemporary animation applications, and principles of movement. Diane led participants in a discussion where they considered a variety of ways to approach the theme "Imaginary worlds" inspired by Earthsea and then decided collectively on a thematic approach for their collaborative animation. The workshop divided into heterogeneous groups of four or five to construct the cardboard stands, experiment with technology and plan cohesive segments that would later be pieced together with the other groups to make one short prototype animation to serve as a model for the films they would later create in their own educational settings. Teacher groups also created textured papers for the backgrounds and figures to animate.

On day one participants were sent off with the task of securing and experimenting with the app OSnap! for their phones or iPods, browsing the resources on the WordPress site and creating a thread-hinged cut paper figure to animate. Day two began with a tutorial and experimentation with OSnap! and considerations for editing and incorporating sound. We gave workshop participants a selection of tools and processes and sent them out on their own to figure it out. Individual groups shot their animations and then created a rough draft of the animation by linking the frames shot by each group. The collaborative animation was further edited after the workshop. After creating this collaborative short during the workshop, over the next several months, participants used and adapted the processes from the workshop for each unique setting and group of students, in order to create completed animation projects on the topic of "Imaginary Worlds."

Collective participation and decision making as well as ample opportunities for creative autonomy both individually and within the small groups produces the most learning and aesthetic expression. Since technology is constantly changing, and in school and community educational contexts there are often limitations due to access and availability, one of the most important lessons learned is to approach the technical tools needed to create animation as a "bricoleur":experimenting, adapting, jury rigging, and wrangling a solution when necessary (Strauss, 1966).

Teachers' cut-paper animation experiment
Noah Belt, Rachel Valsing, Rebecca Belleville, Lea Gurreri
Photographer: Hannah Simms

Kit adaptations

Teachers and their students assembled, adapted and augmented the kit in multiple ways to make it meaningful and relevant. The theme of "Imaginary Worlds" was broadly interpreted and included fantasy as well as creative solutions to real life problems. Youth from a magnet high school innovatively fantasized about potential catastrophes and bodily mutations related to their trades including cosmetology, aquatic study, culinary art and automotive repair. Another school created a world where kitchen objects come to life. Some groups developed elaborate characters and created imaginary worlds for them to live in, and other groups focused entirely on the setting. The Baltimore uprising sparked high school students in one school to create animations that helped them process their personal experiences and imagine solutions towards a socially just and equitable Baltimore. Racial profiling, juvenile incarceration, school bullying and trash were several of the themes Baltimore youth investigated.

The cardboard stands were adapted and also replaced by DIY alternatives including a chair with a conveniently placed hole in the seat and wire shelving mounted on milk crates. The workshop provoked a continuing dialogue among the educators involved as they shared their unique adaptations and technical and pedagogic innovations. Teachers, students, parents and community members participated in a public screening and question and answer session at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore City. The films generated from the animation "kit" were archived on a Wordpress site along with evolving curricular materials.


Andersen, Yvonne. (1970). Make Your Own Animated Movies: Yellow Ball Workshop Film Techniques. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lévi-Strauss, C. (1966). The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Animating imaginary worlds kit index