Monday, 6 July 2009

Cube Life

I have been using animation in the primary classroom for 4 years now (see earlier posts)and in my opinion have successfully got some effective results from the children using a medley of software. My established system, whilst ungainly, worked. stop frame in Digital Blue software, Audio mixing in Audacity and combining the two elements in Moviemaker. I was therefore intrigued, at the Kent ICT Conference and exhibition '09,to see a piece of animation software on show. I have seen a number of products in the past couple of years and they either had an unfriendly interface or did not do quite what I felt they should. So I was expecting more of the same. I stopped and talked to the man from ZU3D

He was helpful and informative as he whizzed through the features of the programme. He quickly and easily created a short stop-frame animation, added titles and sound files. I was nearly impressed - so to the interrogation - The worth of the programme was the receptive nature of the stall holder - he was able to answer my queries regarding Multi-track audio, explain how the other features on the software worked and then listened to and was positive about my development suggestions (what I would like a piecec of animation software to do). I took a trial disc and loaded it onto my laptop immediately (time on my stand spent productively)
The first thing I noticed was how child friendly the interface was:

A series of buttons clearly marked allow: frame capture, preview, live video and deletion of frames.
Titles and a multitude of audio tracks can be added with a simple drag and drop system.
The simplicity of the software is further enhanced by the fact that you can use any digital video camera, therefore a digital blue or a webcam work just fine.

So what made it special - For me there are 2 factors:

Firstly 'Onion Skinning' - The previous frame is cleverly superimposed on the new frame allowing you to see the extent of your move, this also allows for models/figures to be replaced in case they fall.

Secondly the multi-track audio - Whilst not as versatile as Audacity, it offers the abilty to add a variety of sound effects, drag them into position, crop and fade as required.

So I liked it - It has the simple stop-frame animation interface of the digital blue, it has the multi-tracking capability of Audacity and you can drag and drop items, Moviemaker style onto the timeline. I took it home and had a very quick play: Cube Life and I am hoping to get some children onto it in the last week of term.

The final selling point was the website. Showcasing children's work is a fantastic way of maintaining engagement and expanding the assessment opportunities. The ZU3D website provides a gallery onto which completed animations can be uploaded. Content is vetted prior to inclusion on the site and is searchable and comments (also moderated) can be added along with a 5 star rating system. I am looking forward to giving the children a chance to test the parameters of the software and it is on my list of purchases for 2009.

I believe that animation is an engaging way of stimulating children in a number of curricular areas and the ZU3D software offers the opportunities to access this exciting medium in a simple and fun way.

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