Jan 112012

This is a tale of my cluelessness as a father. Last year as parents were frantically making plans for the summer and booking day camps right and left one of my son’s friends asked if he would be interested in a stop-motion animation camp at a local organization called Coyote Central. I checked it out and it sounded interesting. In addition I understood the importance of socialization with his peer group outside the traditional educational setting blah, blah, blahdy, blah, blah.

The camp itself took place at the University of Washington Henry Art Gallery (posh!) and focused on a variety of old school animation techniques with clay, cut paper, drawing, etc. While they used computers for image capture from video feeds and to record and edit sound, computer animation wasn’t in the mix, which was fine with me. After all, the big mucky mucks at Pixar all started in traditional animation and I’m a firm believer in mastering the principles of any art form before translating it to the computer.

Regardless, the boys dug right in. My son focused on claymation while his friend was fascinated by the multiplane camera setup. Right from the start I could tell that this class was a winner and the boys were having a great time. It wasn’t until the last day of class, however, that I truly understood what an impact it had on my son’s young life. As they were putting the finishing touches on their latest project and we were trying to extract them from the premises my son came up to me, trembling, and said, “can I take this class again?”

“Sure,” I replied, “they’ll have it again next summer.”

“No,” he said, clutching at me like Ray Milland in Lost Weekend, “Now, can I take it again now?”

“Um, we’ll see.” Which is cowardly parent-speak for “no.”

Once I had seen the impact this had on him, however, I began to review what I knew of the boy’s history. When we got him his first camera (an absolutely bottom of the line Vivitar digital) he promptly lined up his Hot Wheel cars and proceeded to take 300 shots of them “racing” around his room. He’s gone through reams of paper making giant 8.5×11 flip books. I didn’t connect the dots before but from the very beginning he’s been trying to make stop motion animation. Clueless Dad didn’t see it until he took an actual stop-motion animation class and then the little light bulb finally popped on over my head.

Since then we’ve got him set up with everything he needs. All that’s required is a video camera connected to a computer with a FireWire cable and an animation program, many of which are easily downloaded shareware. We use FrameThief, but there are plenty of other options. The biggest issue we’ve encountered is finding adequate space for his movie studio.

He has said that this is what he wants to do when he grows up. And while I can’t imagine it’s going to pay for our retirement home in Hawaii it’s a cool and/or unusual job. And if it makes him happy then that’s really all that matters.

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