Over the past few months we've been working out the kinks of our cardboard automata workshop in the Tinkering Studio. But before we transition to our next activity, there are a few more explorations of motions and mechanisms that we are interested in prototyping. In that spirit, we had a couple days of trying out a different take on automata inspired by former artist-in-residence Noga Elhassid and her moving toys workshop.
The contraptions are made with a clothespin and wire to create simple linkages to animate a small character or scene. It took a little bit of doing to remember how to create the movements, but after messing around a bit we got the hang of the basics.
One thing that we noticed right away was that the changing the placement of the attachment point of the wire made a big difference in how much the pieces moved.
We made a couple examples, gathered the materials and prepared to try out the activity on the floor. Taking some halloween inspiration, I made a black widow automata that I thought turned out appropriately creepy.
The next day, we brought out the stuff and opened the gates to the workshop. Immediately the space filled with third graders wanting to try the activity. Nicole and I had a little trouble getting them started. We showed them the examples and explained the concept, but it was a tricky to know what starting point would illicit the highest amount of prototyping and testing.
As the day went on we found that although many people were happy with their creations, because the formula for making the character move required following the steps precisely, many participants didn't quite get all the way to experimenting with linkages. Also because it's a fairly consistent but idiosyncratic motion, some people had a hard time to imagine a personalized creation that would fit with the mechanism.
There were a few cool experiments that visitors tried during the day. I was especially interested in how some people incorporated pop-ups into their creations. While not everyone got the linkages to move, a couple people made a pop-out animation in the mouth of the clothespin, which could possible add another layer to the engineering.
The next day, I wanted to try to expand the possibilities for the motions so I made a face that incorporated multiple linkages based on the examples that we saw from Gautham and Vanya at the Shristi School. I though it turned out pretty cool, but it still presented the same problem of how to get people started with an idea and allow them to experiment.
I'd like to prototyping this idea more and adjust the materials to support more investigations and tinkering. I like the fact that the clothespin gives each participant the same "starting motion" to work with but I wonder if the small potential motion limits creativity. A next step may be to detach the linkages activity from the clothespin so that we can learn more about the basic mechanism behind the activity and do something more basic with strips of cardboard and brads. Hopefully we can do a couple more mini-workshops before switching over to our next major activity.