Imagination, movie making at J.P. King

Published 9:34 am Saturday, November 7, 2009

FRANKLIN—Students in Vanessa Collins’ art class at J.P. King Middle School had their creativity take the form of clay on Friday, with the help of two visiting artists from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The artists, who specialize in claymation for the Richmond-based museum, helped the students create a two-minute movie during an all-day workshop. They visited thanks to an art outreach program sponsored through Rawls Museum Arts in Courtland.

“To start with, each student made an original character from their imagination,” said artist Abigail McKenzie. “We then showed them how to sculpt different forms using animation clay.”

Animation clay is non-hardening and comes in different colors, McKenzie said.

The second step of the process was for the class to sit around in a circle and discuss a story that would involve all of the characters, thereby formulating a plot.

“They decided on a party,” McKenzie chuckled. “They decided to have the different characters do different things at the party.”

A set was also created for the movie. McKenzie explained that mixed media is usually used for a claymation set.

“Since the figures are clay we use things like foam core, oil pastels and found objects,” McKenzie said. “Sometimes we use grates and pieces of fencing too for objects to make the set.”

Across the room, Andrew Morgan, another artist from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, is busily making slight changes to about a dozen clay figures in between camera shots. He uses an analog camcorder to take four still shots per second.

Hundreds of camera shots and slight changes to the clay later, the class is ready to watch the video part of their movie. They then discuss adding the sound.

“Each student gets to make the sound for his or her own character,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie and Morgan’s one-day visit to J.P. King was the fourth day for the artists to visit schools in our area. The program has been done through the museum to foster an interest in art since 1995.

“The end result will be a short movie, but it shows the story and the process,” McKenzie said. “It’s also good with children because their attention spans (are short) and it keeps them interested in the project because it goes fast.”

Collins rotated other J.P. King students to join her art class at different times during the day, thereby giving more kids face time with the artists.

“The exposure means a lot to the kids,” Collins said. “We have limited resources and therefore have limited opportunities to do something nice like this. I want to thank the Rawls museum for thinking of us, for this opportunity and the workshop.”