Fueling the Youth of Tomorrow, Spy Hop Shifts Into High Gear

by Megan -

We all look to the “next generation” for innovative ideas, mind-blowing developments, and visionary leaders. But when it comes to driving them towards success, some of us take a backseat, hoping they don’t crash along the way. Spy Hop, a nonprofit youth media arts and education center whose mission is to mentor young people in the digital media arts, has hopped in the driver’s seat and is ready to put the pedal to the metal. Launched in 1999 to help youth find their voice, tell stories, and feel empowered, Spy Hop strives to affect positive change in the lives of their students, their communities, and the world through multimedia education.

“We exist because we believe the next generation has a lot to say. And, we believe that, when armed with awareness and knowledge, youth can speak more articulately and with greater impact,” said Virginia Pearce, Director of Marketing & Community Programs at Spy Hop. “Our afterschool and community programs empower the next generation of media makers to speak for themselves in a way that creates positive change in their lives.”

Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Spy Hop provides safe and high-quality programming for K-12 youth outside school hours. They work closely with their students to foster a personal and artistic expression through the use of emerging technologies, media arts, and by sharing their love for the arts. From writing to editing, Spy Hop is a unique, one stop shop for young people of all backgrounds to actively engage in producing their own narratives. Each year Spy Hop mentors over 2,000 students in developing 21st century educational and workplace readiness skills, while increasing media literacy, personal awareness, and a sense of community.

One of the most enjoyable parts of their class series for both Spy Hop instructors and youth alike is the stop animation workshops. With kid-friendly characters like mermaids and dragons, and the easy-to-use software iStopMotion, kids as young as four write, direct, and star in their own short films. But the process wasn’t always so easy for the team at Spy Hop who, until recently, did not have software that was easy for their students to use. While browsing the tech world for something that would allow their summer claymation classes to appeal to the younger kids, a friend from a local youth organization suggested they try out Boinx Software’s iStopMotion. The match was kismet and the team never looked back.

“We use iStopMotion as a storytelling technique for several different kinds of classes,” said Adam Sherlock, one of Spy Hop’s instructors. “From summer camp workshops with elementary-age students that are just fun, wacky, creative claymation movies, to social skills PSAs with youth from group homes who are in the state’s custody and can't show their faces on camera, iStopMotion is a great way [for them] to access their creativity. Even students as young as five and six are able to grasp fairly complex notions regarding distance of movement and speed.”

One of the greatest features for kids is the instant gratification they get from using iStopMotion. The playback feature lets the children see the animations their pictures create immediately – a process that otherwise takes hours. But for the teachers at Spy Hop, a different feature stands out.

“The interface and onion skinning features mean that I can teach the program in less than five minutes and then get out of the way, letting students work for hours on their own project and give them the satisfaction that they have done it all on their own.”

From summer animation workshops to community programs, weekly classes to ANIMATIONLAND (an interactive booth where kids can stop in for 10 minutes to make quick films), Spy Hop offers several options for students to get into the studio and go wild with their creativity, teaming up with local community organizations including the International Rescue Committee, Boys & Girls Group Home, and the County Library system, all of which help at-risk teens. With all of the great work they do, Spy Hop isn’t slowing down. Their newest program reaches out to refugees, making it easier for them to share their story.

“The easiest ways to get them engaged into telling their story is having them animate it using iStopMotion for iPad through paper animation. It doesn't take a lot of experience with software or technology and it is immediately engaging," said Pearce. "iStopMotion for iPad is particularly good for on-the-go projects because it is self-contained and needs no additional gear. The iPad acts as camera, computer, and editing bay once dropped into iMovie. It makes the process really painless. By being able to set up a stop motion studio wherever we go, using iStopMotion allows us to get set up quickly and get the kids engaged from the beginning.”

Spy Hop students have been featured at many prestigious festivals and contests such as the Los Angeles International Film Festival and GRAMMY Foundation MusiCares Teens Make Music Contest. With a passion for creativity and a love for teaching young people, Spy Hop has transformed digital media arts into a vehicle for free expression, self-discovery, critical thinking, and group participation; a vehicle that everyone wants to take for a spin.

To learn more about Spy Hop and the classes they offer, visit their website at www.spyhop.org and check out their Vimeo for all their fantastic student produced works.


Once Upon A Time Created by a 4 year old at a local festival. She filled in the “Mad Lib” story and created the video in about 15 minutes.

Dracula the Bully A project of the Boys & Girls Group home, this film was meant to explain bullying to a younger child.

Pigs vs. Dragons Created at a Spy Hop presentation to 40 kids and their parents. The camera was hung from the ceiling of the theatre, and strung a long cable to our laptop with iStopMotion. The kids wore hats with their characters on them.

Click here for a great explanation by a 7 year-old of how to use iStopMotion.