Throughout her 10-plus years of teaching art classes at Faribault High School, Jackie Demarias said students have often requested she teach a film and animation class.
Thanks to the seven-period day, which returned this academic year following the 2019 voter-approved levy, Demarais has found herself teaching a course she never thought she’d teach.
“I’m really grateful the community supported having a seven -eriod day,” Demarais said. “I think that was really important for giving students more opportunities to grow in their passions.”
So many students signed up for the film and animation class that Demarais taught two sections for the first semester, which wraps up this month. Twenty new students will take the class for the second semester, again in two separate class sections.
Students learned about animation through the ages during the semester -ong class, starting with the use of a phenakistiscope — a circle in which each pie wedge represents a frame of an animation. Like a cartoon flip book, the phenakistiscope allows the animator to see the subtle changes from one drawing to the next. Students created their own phenakistiscopes so they could see how the animation works on a wheel.
For the second lesson, Demarais taught students about a vector-based 2-D animation style in which they literally drew out their animations frame by frame. She taught students a technique called “squishing,” which, in the example of a bouncing ball, uses motion lines to give the illusion of movement. Students also learned about how different companies might use this type of animation on their websites and the different impacts of colors.
Film and animation students have also studied different types of stop motion animation, which might involve small figures like in “The Lego Movie” or cut paper stop motion like in “South Park.” Students submitted their own stop motion animation assignments, but due to distance learning, Demarais said she didn’t want to pressure them to meet a specific time length for their short film clips. In future traditional school years, she may expect students to create stop motion projects totaling one or two minutes.
Most recently, students have been using iMovie to learn how to keep viewers engaged with a film without using words to tell their story. Currently, students are developing frame-by-frame storyboards as their final project for the semester. Each student will receive feedback from Demarais and the other students online and then shoot their scenes to the length of about 3 minutes.
Practice makes pivot
Introducing a new class during a pandemic wasn’t ideal, but Demarais and her students found ways to adapt the curriculum. Switching from hybrid to distance learning presented struggles for Demarais and her students, some related to internet programming and others having to do with the lack of in-person contact.
Some of the animation programs Demarais shared with her students didn’t work as well on the iPads they needed to use at home because advertisements created glitches in their frames. After demonstrating how to do something on her end, Demarais said she’d receive messages from students telling her it didn’t work for them at home. Finding programs that worked the same way for everyone in the class was hard, she said, but some of her students stepped up and suggested alternatives and even showed her techniques they learned on their own.
As students worked on projects at home, Demarais said they didn’t always have the proper materials, like tripods for their iPads. As a result, she began creating little packages of extra materials for students to pick up from school to take home.
As Demarais prepares to teach semester two of the class, she anticipates applying most of the adjustments she made to the class during the pandemic all over again. She hopes her students can at least stay in the classroom with the hybrid model instead of transitioning back to distance learning.
“What I’m really looking forward to is when we can all be back in the classroom so we’re all on the same playing field,” Demarais said. “… Right now it’s a great class, and the students are doing nice work, but I just feel the potential for it to blossom into something I think everyone is hoping for will work out a lot better in the classroom.”
Post-pandemic, Demarais’ vision is that students will collaborate for their stop motion projects after learning to use the phenakistiscope and do vector-based 2-D animation individually. That way, students can take on different responsibilities as they work toward a common goal, pitch their stories to a group, and educate one another. In a classroom setting, Demarais said her students would have an easier time learning a new task by observing how she, and others, do it.
“I really appreciate the hard work students have done,” Demarais said. “I know it’s hard to go through [the pandemic] as a teenager … I applaud them because It can’t be easy. I’m just grateful and proud and look forward to where this can continue to grow and go.”