When Children Become Filmmaking Stars

by Megan -

photo credit Joe Roberts

Florida’s Tampa Theatre was built in 1926 as a movie palace. Gorgeous and historic, Tampa Theatre is the perfect setting to teach children about the basics of visual storytelling through film. The Tampa Theatre Film Camp is a collaboration between the Tampa Theatre and the Florida Center for Instructional Technology at the USF College of Education. Founded by FCIT Director Roy Winkelman and long-time Tampa Theatre Community Relations director Tara Schroeder, the camp launched in 2004. Since then, a number of educators have jumped on board as camp counselors, from teachers who graduated from the USF program and pre-service teachers currently enrolled at the College of Education, to college students studying filmmaking who have come through the camp themselves.

At the Tampa Theatre Film Camp, young people learn about visual storytelling through film and teachers are taught how to integrate technology into their classrooms, all while promoting community interest in the historic Tampa Theatre. The camp began holding a stop motion animation week during its third year using Boinx’s iStopMotion app. They loved it so much that they never looked back.

We looked at several different programs, but iStopMotion was the obvious choice because of its simplicity,” says Allison Papke, one of the educators who lead the stop motion animation week at Tampa Theatre each summer. “It’s a powerful tool that is easy to use. After a few minutes, no one thinks about the interface. They are free to concentrate on their creations.

Allison says they regularly teach groups of eight-year-olds to use iStopMotion and typically, they’re really good within the first session. “The onion skinning is an excellent feature because it allows the campers to see how much they have moved the object before taking the next picture,” she says. “Also, accidents happen at camp and sometimes an entire set may get bumped. The onion skinning allows it to be reset to how it was.

The students at Tampa Theatre Film Camp love seeing objects come to life through their stop motion animations. They also love being able to easily use many other tools in conjunction with iStopMotion, like GarageBand and iMovie. Allison thinks that techniques such as stop motion help students to expand their knowledge, too.

Stop motion allows students to film things that couldn’t happen in real life, such as walking Legos or stuffed animals,” she says. “They have also done ‘people-mation,’ which allows them to do things that they wouldn’t be able to do in real life. Animation allows students to be creative because, unlike live action filming, the sky is the limit!

Tampa Theatre Film Camp’s stop motion week is loaded with fun. On Monday, students practice animating with cut paper animation and white board animation. On Tuesday, they advance by practicing with clay and object animation. Wednesday is the day their final animation begins to form. Students share their ideas with the whole group and then form small groups of three or four, where they decide on a medium or mixed media. Then, they write the script and create the storyboards for their animation. They also begin creating the backgrounds and characters. The students spend Thursday animating their movies. On Friday, they record voiceovers and add titles, music, transitions and special effects in iMovie. At the end of the day on Friday, the parents come for a sneak preview of the finished stop motion animation movies.

Like any good film camp, Tampa Theatre holds a Film Camp Festival every year to premiere the movies created during the camp. It serves as the premiere for over 40 original movies, including both live action and stop motion animation. It’s a great place for students to get credit for all their hard work and get a taste of the success and satisfaction that comes with being a filmmaker!

My advice to aspiring filmmakers is to watch movies with a critical eye, paying careful attention to shots and angles, costumes, setting and dialogue and applying these techniques to your own movies,” Allison says. “Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t ever stop making movies!

Check out Tampa Theatre online to learn more about the theatre or to sign up for the next Tampa Theatre Film Camp! You could be the next one showing off your work at the Tampa Theatre Film Camp Festival!