A guest post by Daniel Donahoo
It was all Alan Becker’s fault. And I don’t even know who he is.
All I know about him is he has a site at deviant art and created a fantastic animation titled “Animation vs Animator” (which of course prompted the subsequent action-animation sequel – “Animation vs
Animator 2 – The Chosen One”)
I showed it to my two boys and they were amazed. They watched it three times in a row and it got me thinking about some animation freeware I’d downloaded a while back. So, I squeezed between them and opened up
Pivot Stick Figure Animator.
I’d found Pivot sometime ago. It is a simple stick figure animation tool that appeals to those of us who “let ourselves go” in the design software department once we had kids. You know, back in the late 1990s when you were the only person in your family to have a website and then this thing called pregnancy appeared and before we knew it Macromedia had re-developed Dreamweaver and Flash so much that we’d lost our capacity to use them (and our desire to re-learn them). My idea was simply to show my boys how the animation was created through a demonstration, give them an idea about the amount of work it required to create what Alan Becker had created.
Pivot makes creating individual frames really easy, and moving animations is based on a simple click and drag process. Each figure has different points (red dots) that can be manipulated and a single point (yellow dot) to move the whole figure. A simple left-hand-side toolbar has about 5 or 6 options which are simple to grasp and not overwhelming for young users.
So I began to create a stick figure waving at us from the computer screen and within a couple of minutes I had about 5-10 seconds of animation. Within 5 minutes, my four year old and six year old were asking for a turn. They mastered the basic concept very quickly. Together we worked out you could insert any jpg background from the hard-drive and they were away.
Despite my own beliefs in the capacity of children and their ability to do things that we never acknowledge (so never see them do), I was amazed at the speed at which they picked up the basic concepts using Pivot. After a few days they had realized they could create their own stick figures to animate and had begun to use the simple drawing tool to save their own stick figure props like beds, cannons and barbells.
So, the benefits of Pivot for kids are:
- Simple Click and Drag animation: The click and drag style of animation that leaves a “shadow” of the previous position of the arm, leg, whatever until you click.
- Speed: The nature of the one click frame creation combined with the click and drag animation style means results can be achieved quickly. This is important, especially for kids in the early primary years.
- A range of simple functions: Single click functions that allow a change of size and color which add to the animation pleasure. My eldest worked out by increasing the size of an animation over many frames makes it look like it grows.
- Extending aspects: There is an extension area that allows you to design your own “stick figures” and import them into your animation.
The program saves the files as animated gifs – which is delightfully old school – but I have been experimenting with possible conversion tools and you can get some slightly pixilated, but decent avi files out of it. The reason for this is my boys now want to include sound effects. So, I’m looking for a simple video editing tool so we can see if they can manage that.