Bethel Park students make stick-figure videos

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They've fallen. But they can get up.

In the world of stop motion animation, anything is possible, as students at Bethel Park's Benjamin Franklin Elementary School are learning.

"We were taking a photo, and I thought about the idea of skydiving," said fourth-grader Jackson Miller, and he showed off the couple-of-seconds video he produced with classmates Bradley Raeder and Abigail Phillips. "It worked out better than I thought."

Sure enough, when you take a look at the clip, the little Popsicle-stick figures representing the three students seem to fall to the ground, only to do it over again.

Each student in Amy Luzader's class made his or her own self-portrait puppet to star in a short as part of a special art program called "A Closer Look."

Paul Kruse, a filmmaker and playwright who studied at Northwestern University, is visiting to teach stop motion animation as one of the artists working with the school through Pittsburgh-based Gateway to the Arts. The organization's Arts to the Core initiative seeks to integrate other subjects into students' creative expression.

One of the first lessons they learned was how to apply math to their animation projects: six frames equal one second of film.

"Can anyone tell me how many pictures you take for a two-second animation?" Mr. Kruse asked the class.

Hands go up all over the room: Everyone knows the answer is 12.

"It's great for students to be able to apply something they learn in art," said Kristen Ritchie, Benjamin Franklin art teacher, who arranged for Mr. Kruse and other visiting instructors through Arts to the Core.

One of the goals of the initiative is to provide learning experiences that will reinforce literacy development as a component of the incoming Common Core Standards for all Pennsylvania students.

"We want to promote awareness of the importance of art education," Miss Ritchie explained. "What really is going to make our kids successful in the future is the ability to be creative."

In addition to skydiving, Mrs. Luzader's students had their puppets -- or Mini-Me's, named after the diminutive character of "Austin Powers" fame -- appear to engage in such activities as color a piece of paper, walking and tripping over a rock, and sprouting wings and flying skyward.

Their tools are simple: basically a camera attached to a PVC-pipe frame, of Mr. Kruse's own design and construction. Each student has learned to take a photo of his or her Mini-Me, move it slightly and take another photo, then to marvel at the result.

"Don't worry," Mr. Kruse assured the students as they reluctantly wrapped up last week's proceedings. "There'll be more time next week."

Now that they've learned the principles, students will embark on a more ambitious animation project: selecting an object from the classroom they hadn't noticed before, and telling an animated story about it.

"The artists are so impressed with the kids, how creative and inspiring they are," Miss Ritchie said.

education - neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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