Dad Wins #3 – Be an animation hero!

Dad Wins #3

Welcome to Dad Wins – a series aimed at helping dads get some quick wins at home by doing things they either wouldn’t usually do. This might be because they’re too busy, someone else usually does it, or simply because they don’t have a clue where to start. Obviously, mums can get quick wins too, but dads get bonus points.

This week, it will be my most tech-based one so far (which isn’t that hard as it is only the third one) but don’t be put off – this is incredibly straightforward and loads of fun. All you need is a tablet/smartphone, some Lego, a kid* with a bit of imagination and a pinch of patience, and then you can become an animation hero!

*optional

Animation Hero!

Compared to when I was young, I think it’s incredible how technology has become such an integral part of everyday life.

Whereas I have fond memories of playing my Sega Mega Drive from about age 12, my children are already clued up on Fifa and Minecraft and know their way around Netflix better than me.  The reach of technology extends to their education as well – they have interactive whiteboards and tablets at school, use the internet to research their homework, and can even use apps such as Hairy Letters and Teach Monster to help with their phonics.

The 8 year old me would have loved to have access to the technology that is taken for granted today. At one point wanted to be an animator but back then it was all about drawing pictures as we didn’t have fancy things such as video cameras.  Nowadays of course, video cameras are everywhere and animation is not only accessible but easy.

This dad win will show you just how easy it can be and will focus on an animated Lego video that NJ and I made a while back. There isn’t much of a plot and the effects are creaky but making it was lots of fun and I like to think NJ learnt a thing or two.

So, what do you do?

1. Don’t buy any fancy software, special books or guides telling you what to do. I’ve seen lots of ‘how to’ books with instructions on how to plot and design your animation, even some with sets included but it really isn’t necessary and, for me, it spoils a lot of the fun and the ‘learning by doing’.

2. Build your scene. Actually, you don’t do this. Let your child take the lead – this is their movie after all. You don’t even have to use Lego to create this masterpiece – you can use pretty much anything providing you can control its movement but for me Lego is the easiest and most iconic thing to use.

3. While they are doing this, make sure your device is charged and has a suitable app installed. Most modern smartphones or tablets will have basic animation software available to download where you can easily build your film through a series of clicks and control sound effects.

4. Spend a little time getting familiar with the settings and how to use it. Your child might be confident to do this on their own, but there is nothing worse than toiling over app settings when you have an impatient child wanting to get stuck in. We used ‘Stop Motion Studio’ on an iPad but there are lots of alternatives available.

5. Build a stand for your device. Compared to building the Lego scene, this is the most boring bit and NJ was more than happy for me do this. All of it was made out of Lego too. Top tip: try to be as flexible as possible with potential movement and don’t attach any of the stand to what you are filming – this is very tempting if you are using Lego place-mats. You can add wheels to the stand if you’re planning on some sweeping cinematic tracking shots, but as long as it keeps the device secure and steady, a basic block of bricks it will be fine.

three time daddy dad win Lego
Behind the scenes with NJ

6. Get filming and take it slow. Moving each Lego piece in millimetres was tricky for NJ at first, but he got the hang of it and saw the importance of being patient.  Top tip: think about lighting as we made our video during the day and, as a result, the lighting and shadows are all over the place. Depending on how serious you want to take it, you can set up additional lamps to control how the light falls.

7. Get editing. Depending how many videos you’ve recorded and what various angles you’ve used, you’re going to need to splice them together. The app we used made this incredibly easy and straightforward and we could even trim bits out.

8. Add your sound effects. When we make a video, we add our own sound effects using silly voices and sounds. A good app will let you either record the sound or import it from somewhere else.

9. When you’re finished and happy, process the video and export it to your device. It’s then free for you to upload to wherever you want.

10. Watch the finished masterpiece. The Oscar is in the post apparently.

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