This quote, from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is apt for several reasons.

“So fair and foul a day I have not seen.”, William Shakespeare, Macbeth.

To start with, it was a grey and misty morning as we unpacked our bags in the carpark of Marden Bridge Middle School. Secondly, many of the students had been to see Macbeth at The Theatre Royal the previous week and finally, we’d arrived to instruct a dining hall full of innocent minds in the ways of dark, spooky and downright horrible stories.

Visual spooky storytelling

Our introduction to visual storytelling began with examples of the art dating back to cave paintings, shadow puppetry and costume dramas. Then Chloe, TICE’s animation mentor, asked the students what they thought the word animation meant – and could they describe it.

The complexity and detail of the responses given by the students were brilliant as we explored how to make individual pictures move, how to create a loop and the different styles and techniques with which we’re all familiar.

Types of animation

Chloe then talked to the students about the work involved in computer-generated image cartoons like Despicable Me and the Minions, hand-drawn tales like The Snowman and the classic stop-motion of Wallace and Gromit.

Showing a video of Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘The Horse in Motion’ from 1882, we broke it down into photographs of a horse galloping, captured frame-by-frame and then looped into what’s considered by many to be the first moving picture.

A beautiful animation followed, drawn in pencil, which lasted for a mere 35 seconds but which would have required 12 individual drawings for each of those precious seconds.

http://portfolios.risd.edu/gallery/48472377/Charcoal-Animation

Then it was over to the students to unleash their visual storytelling skills.

Chloe had plotted a walking cycle for a Wolf Man, with 36 images that she had numbered in sequence.

With instructions to fill in the A3-sized Wolf Man’s fur on each of the ever-so-slightly different images, they set to work with their shading pencils for 15-minutes, creating a wealth of textured, strokeable yet menacing furry friends.

Then we turned our minds to the language of visual storytelling and to evocative words. Kath played a soundscape from the inside of a dripping cave, deep underground and asked the students to choose a location for their spooky story.

Would it be:

  • Set in a natural or a supernatural setting?
  • Would it be somewhere they already knew well or a new and imaginary scene?
  • Could they take elements of the room we were in – the dining hall – to think of spooky sound effects?
  • Might they visit places that are famous for being spooky, like Whitby Abbey?

While the students started to describe the location of their story, with a printed list of the elements that such spookiness usually entails for guidance – like betrayals, family secrets, whispers and silences and fluttering curtains – Chloe photographed the furry, textured and terrifying Wolf Man drawings they’d produced.

Then it was time to look at what makes a character spooky.

Referencing Molly Bang’s brilliant book, ‘How Pictures Work’ we explored sharp shapes, rounded shapes and perspective – then asked the students to create a friendly cat character silhouette and a spooky cat character silhouette of their own.

Then it was time to think about their character’s personalities. Kath asked them a series of questions, created to start building an imaginary character with likes and dislikes, friends and foes, ambitions and fears.

Chloe then linked up her camera to the laptop, and the students yelled with delight as they watched their furry Wolf-Men come to life with a careful strolled loop across the screen.

To finish, we gave each student a nine-cell storyboard on a sheet of A4 with which to write or draw their finished stories – complete with their hero, the walking Wolf-Man.

Thank you, Marden Bridge Middle School, for a lovely day!