This is a guest post by our summer intern Diana Chen:
As an intern at the Tinkering Studio this summer, one of the tasks I was in charge of was revamping the Stop-Motion Animation Studio. Roaming around the small but crowded station area, I was captivated by the way kids made use of various shapes and materials. Green triangles turned to leaves when attached to a branch, broken toothpicks were formed into letters, and even an old crumpled museum map was artfully laid out to suggest a mountainous landscape.
Having witnessed this joyful process, I felt a strong desire to enlarge the realm of creative possibilities. I started by reviewing previous examples on the Animation Station YouTube channel, and experimented with ways to introduce new materials. Initially, the station was composed of mainly geometric shapes and wooden slabs. Over time, other materials were introduced, such as metal chains, cotton or wood shavings. Inspired by the diversity of storytelling in these past videos, I set out to play around with texture and color, laying out pastel colored plastic mesh, pom poms, and pipe cleaners. Because these materials were so amorphous in nature, kids were able to imbue their own meaning without being influenced by a more concrete example, such as a cardboard cut-out of a tree.
While these materials were a big success, they also proved to be unmanageable. Pom poms disappeared, and pipe cleaners became unusable for the next visitor. To improve upon this system, I brought out metal springs, screws, and plastic gears, materials that might have lacked the vibrancy of the first set, but had an equal amount of texture and were far more durable. It was fascinating to notice how a slight change in materials changed the tones of the videos made that day, as videos became darker with titles such as “Nuke Drop” and “Car Crash Sunset” as opposed to the earlier ones that had titles such as “Fun Times” and “Dance Dance Revolution.” It made me think deeply about how a slight shift can spark a whole trend without one even realizing it.
Having experimented with materials, I turned my attention to moveable characters, introducing cat and dog hinged cardboard puppets. I also played around with comic texts, inspired by kids who had crafted words out of shapes or discarded papers in the past. Because a lot of the texts were action oriented, many of the videos depicted explosions and fights. To neutralize this trend, I introduced more transitional words, such as “later” or “meanwhile”, in the hopes that they might inspire kids to think about the narrative arc of stories.
Perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of working on the Animation Studio was the prototyping process, where I was able to lay out or create materials relatively quickly, and review the results on the animation channel the very next day, getting a sense of what worked and what didn’t. I was always humbled by the fact that no materials were overlooked. The broken arms of a robot toy served as the eyes of a caterpillar (itself composed of yellow hexagons); an iridescent CD served as the inspiration for a cyclops; and even the wooden container that housed the materials was used to create a scene. This experience impressed upon me the realization that the joy of visually recording stories transcends mere physical tools.