Developing Kids Developing Films - with iStopMotion

by Megan -

Some kids are star students. Some are athletes or musicians. Now, thanks to ScreenPLAY, some are award-winning animators. Started by arts professional and dramatherapist Sharon Hayden and filmmaker Alastair Nisbet in early 2012, ScreenPLAY brings Hollywood magic to the classroom with their stop motion classes geared towards the youngest aspiring filmmakers.

As a not-for-profit social enterprise, ScreenPLAY aims to work with groups and individuals using the creative arts to develop dynamic, expressive, and cohesive communities. They encourage hands-on learning and work to give youth a voice through digital media, animation, and film.

With a full team of all-star artists and filmmakers including visual artist Nic Rawling, music producer Mickey Wills, and scriptwriter Peter Snelling, Hayden and Nisbet provide a complete filmmaking package. From editing to script writing, storyboards to music production, they offer a range of expertise and equipment that engages even the most fidgety six-year-old. As avid iStopMotion users for the past five years, Nisbet notes the rotoscoping feature is his favorite part of the software, allowing for easily achieved dialog animation. ScreenPLAY doesn’t use the software just to develop quality films, but to help develop the kids who are using it.

“We have used iStopMotion in the classroom with young people from five to 18, both able-bodied and those with a physical disability,” said Nisbet. “iStopMotion is powerful but easy to use. A big spacebar clicker makes it accessible for any child with any level of ability. The animation process itself becomes a useful way of developing fine motor skills, concentration, confidence and self-esteem.”

From Greek myths of Perseus defeating the evil Gorgon, Medusa, to ancient British stories of a beautiful princess, the ScreenPLAY website features a wide variety of films by kids. But when it comes to the quality of the work, we leave that up to the professionals. This past November, the film “The Helpful Dead,” created by the filmmaking quartet from Wyke Regis Junior School in Dorchester, was selected for screening at the Co-operative Film Festival in Manchester, Britain’s oldest film festival. Accolades continued to flood in when the film won the top prize of “Best Film by Primary Age Children” at the 2012 Electric Decemember Awards in Bristol.

“It was a wonderful achievement for the ten year old filmmakers,” said Hayden. "We're thrilled their work is being recognized in this way. It’s the first time any of these children have been to Bristol and being part of these awards has opened their eyes to some of the opportunities out there in our creative industries. Best Film in Electric December could perhaps be a first step on the path to a career in film.”

Electric December producer Hannah Higginson said films had been chosen for their imaginative and distinctive style. “I’ve been knocked out by the huge amount of flair and talent on show this year. We are committed to developing new talent and it’s a joy to see the exciting range of films.”

The film, along with three others (“The Big Splash,” “The Portland Race,” and “Running Blind”) has also been selected for screening at Animated Exeter in February, one of the largest animation festivals in Europe. While the recognition is a great boost for the young directors, Nisbet reminds us of the real victory for ScreenPLAY.

“One of the teachers whose class we worked with said the film project was the best thing she had done in 16 years of teaching. Another said it had been a life-changing experience for the children taking part,” Nisbet reminisced. “We have had children who were badly behaved or low achievers, suddenly finding something they were good at doing and that gave them a new enthusiasm for school. We have had children who had not spoken a word for months, taking up speaking roles in our films.”

Whether they are winning awards or winning the hearts of the students, it is clear that ScreenPLAY has a significant impact in the world of creative arts and animation. Nisbet said there are some exciting film, animation, and digital arts projects already in the pipeline. For such a young organization, ScreenPLAY has already done big things. The next generation of stop animators has arrived, and with the guidance of Hayden, Nisbet, and their team, it looks like the industry has a bright future.