Digital Guyana

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Pontus was only able to make the first two weeks of the project but was an indispensable part of the team, developing the HTML, CSS and advanced HTML parts of the course.

I put a camera in front of Pontus and asked him a few questions at the end of his stay:

Day 3 Morning – Beginning the Assignment

The project set comprised of making a short animation in which a character walks up to a car, enters, and drives off. I thought this was an apt choice of project as not only did it cover all the skills that the students had been learning (with the exception of lip-synching, which they had all mastered very well) but it also encouraged creative application of the skills they had learned. For example the car, in order to be animated more realistically, would need spinning tires – a use of the MovieClip symbol that I had not taught them, but could be figured out from what I had. The same goed for animating the character opening the door and getting in the car.

Most of the morning session comprised of me answering and questions the students had and assisting them with any problems they encountered.

Day 3 Afternoon – Further Reading Plus Inspiration and Group Assessment

In the afternoon session, whilst the students finished up their work, I introduced them to the popular website Newgrounds.com. Newgrounds is a web-based animation forum for animation mostly made in the flash environment. It is a completely user-generated content website, and so finding high quality animation can sometimes be difficult. However it is a great resource for seeing what the flash environment is capable of. Whilst the students worked I played a series of my personal favourite animations which showed various different styles and complexities of approach to animation.

I set a deadline for the projects to be completed, exported to Quick Time and on a memory stick for about 3:00pm. At this time I uploaded all the files onto the computer I had been using (which was hooked up to a data projector) and played the animations back for everybody to see. There were some impressive, creative responses to the project and I am very proud of the work the students did. Of course they are not quite professional quality yet, but for a week long project they did incredibly well. In addition they now have almost all the skills they need to, with enough passion for it, push the finesse of their animations toward professional quality.

I would like to take this opportunity to pass on my hearty congratulations to all the students who took part and to thank them for the opportunity to share my knowledge with them. It has been an absolute pleasure and I hope that got as much out of it (or even more) than I did.

I will include a list of resources and a few of the animations I showed my students in a further post at some point in the near future.

Day 3 Morning – MovieClips and Tweens

The first part of the morning was spent showing the class the two major tweens used in flash before CS4: Motion and shape. Tweens are a kind of shortcut for animation in flash. You put the object you want to animate in a position at the first and last frames you want to animate and flash does the rest of the work.

The students learned that a shape tween can only be applied to the area between two keyframes on a layer without symbols in them. Similarly, they learned that motion tweens can only occur between two keyframes on a layer that have only one instance of the same symbol in that frame.

The second part of the morning introduced the students to MovieClips. MovieClips are a type of symbol that instead of being a static graphic can be a looping animation. I showed the students how to put their lip-synched animations into a MovieClip and then animate that MovieClip using a tween.

Day 3 afternoon – Walk Cycles, Motion Guides and exporting to Quick Time

After instroducing looped animation using MovieClips I continued to show the class what a walk cycle was. A walk cycle is a looped animation showing a character walking. Making a walk cycle and then animation the movieclip with a motion tween is a great shortcut to get characters moving quickly and effectively.

We started off with a very simple walk cycle for a stick man – each arm and leg was a symbol, then each one was put on a seperate layer and animated using tweens in order to give the feel of a walk (even if it was very stiff and stilted). After they each had a simple walk cycle I got the students to break the arm and leg symbols up into forearm, arm, thigh and shin, so that the character would have working knees and elbows. I then got them to analyze somebody walking in order to find the best way to make the walk look realistic.

A lot of students at this point took the opportunity to use their lip-synched face animation as the head for their stick man. I commend their creativity.

Once everyone had a walk cycle completed, I showed the students motion guides. Motion guides are a line that can be paired with a layer in order to manipulate the path a tween follows – so that you can create a more diverse movement than just a straight line.

Finally, I taught the students the procedure for exporting an animation to the Quick Time .mov file format for use in video

The final part of the afternoon session was setting a quick one-day project for the students to consolidate the skills that they had picked up. Details to be posted in the day four post.

Day four will be posted up shortly.

The flash animation course was a precursor to the main web skills course which was taught as a week long ‘slab’ to a select few students.

The high intensity four-day course which was broken down into:

  • Day 1: Introduction to the flash interface and familiarisation with keyframes (simple facial animation)
  • Day 2: Lip-synching and introduction to tweens
  • Day 3: Walk cycles, advanced walk cycles, and motion guides
  • Day 4: One-day assignment: Create a short animation of a person walking up to a car, getting in and driving off.

Day 1 morning – introduction to the interface:

The morning section took the form of a lecture that introduced the main tools and elements in the flash interface, these include:

  • The stage
  • The toolbar, which included:
    • The selection tool
    • The free transform tool
    • The pencil tool
    • The line tool
    • The rectangle/oval/polystar tool
    • The paintbrush tool
    • The paintbucket tool
    • The inkbottle tool
    • The magnifying glass tool
    • The contextual menu
  • The properties bar
  • The library
  • Colour swatches
  • The timeline

Day 1 afternoon – familiarisation with keyframes and the timeline:

The afternoon was a more hands-on period where I got students to explore simple animation with pre-prepared artwork. First importing it into Flash, and then converting it to a low size, more animation-friendly format.

The afternoon session was broken down like this:

  • Importing images and trace bitmap
  • Frames and Keyframes
  • Keyboard shortcuts including:
    • Ctrl-C (Copy)
    • Ctrl-X (Cut)
    • Ctrl-V (Paste)
    • Ctrl-Shift-V (Paste in place)
    • Ctrl-Z (Undo)
    • Ctrl-B (Break apart)
    • V (Selection tool)
    • Q (Free transform tool)
    • N (Line tool)
    • k (Paintbucket tool)
  • Symbols
  • Simple animation: switching between different symbol instances between keyframes to create the illusion of movement (like smiling or blinking) using two static frames.

Day 2 to follow soon

HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language – the tags and attributes that are used to explain to a web browser how to display a page on the internet.

In the first lesson of the course we introduced the students to HTML and got them to build a very basic personal website with a homepage and separate pages for links and contact details.

Firstly, we asked them to open Notepad and create an html page using the <html> and <body> tags. The importance of closing all tags was emphasised.

<h1> tags were used to indicate the title and <p> tags were used around a lump of text. The file was saved as ‘index.html’ and viewed in a browser to show how the page displays.

Links were demonstrated next, along with html attributions. The students were asked to add a link to another website to their web page.

We then asked the students to use Notepad to create a document called ‘links.html’. In this document they listed a set of links to other websites.

The exercise was repeated, creating a third page called ‘contact.html’. The pages were then all edited to insert links between them.

To demonstrate how to add images into a web page, we took photos of the students and gave them the file to insert into their homepages.

We introduced the students to the following HTML tags:

  • <html>
  • <body>
  • <h1>
  • <p>
  • <strong>
  • <em>
  • <a>
  • <img>
  • <ul>
  • <li>

We demonstrated HTML tag attributes using:

Further attributes to style text included:

  • font-family: arial
  • font-weight: bold
  • background-color: yellow
  • text-align: center
  • size: 100%

In compiling the course materials we were indebted to the HTML tutorials provided by W3Schools.

(For links to further Web Skills course content please go to The Course)

You take it for granted that you can pick up a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide to pretty much every country under the sun. Guyana, however, has only one dedicated English language guidebook to its name, by Bradt. The first edition came out just last year. In short, unlike its South American or Caribbean neighbours, Guyana is not on the tourist trail – either for backpackers or tour goers.

Matt pulls his best Martin Sheen Mekong Delta face

Matt pulls his best Martin Sheen Mekong Delta face

But that’s certainly not through a lack of amazing sounding places to visit. The Bradt guide, which I managed to track down in Foyles on Charing Cross Road a few days before I set off, describes the country as “South America’s hidden gem”. Flicking through its beautiful colour pictures of Kaieteur Falls (the largest single drop waterfall in the world), rainforest covered mountains, endless savannahs and shots of the country’s abundant wildlife – jaguars, leatherback turtles, giant anteaters and more exotic birds than you can shake a pair of expensive binoculars at – you can see what the writer’s on about.

But a lack of interior development (90 per cent of the population lives along the coastlands, which make up 5 per cent of the land), a monopoly on many internal flights and the fact that prices are more in line with the Caribbean than Latin America means that many of the trips on offer don’t come cheap. A return day trip to Kaieteur, for example, costs around $220. Still, since we’ve arrived, locals and volunteers have been urging us to take a trip into the interior to see the real beauty of Guyana.

Because one of our four-man team, Pontus, is only here for two weeks, last weekend was his only chance to properly get out of Georgetown. We decided Kaieteur was a bit steep for a day return (you also apparently don’t get to spend too much time at the waterfall) and the southern savannahs and Shell Beach (where you can see prehistoric turtles lay eggs) were out because we’d spend most of the weekend traveling. So we chose an eco-friendly jungle lodge called Arrowpoint situated in the Amerindian community of Santa Mission on the banks of Pokerero Creek – partly because it was just two hours journey south from Georgetown, but mainly because it came highly recommended by everyone we met who’d been there before.

Although the price included all meals and activities, Arrowpoint wasn’t exactly cheap, especially when you compared it to similar sorts of getaways in the backpacker friendly countries of South East Asia or South America. But from the moment our speedboat whipped off the wide and brown Demarara River into a winding tree lined creek we knew we’d made the right choice. Over the next 24 hours we mountain biked along jungle tracks in search of a plane wreck, went kayaking, got up at the crack of dawn to go birdwatching with a local guide (spotting, from afar, macaws, hummingbirds and vultures) and did some moonlight animal spotting.

The undoubted highlight, though, was swimming in the black, tannin heavy waters of the creek. Late on the first night we spotted  small spectacled caiman in the same bit we’d been bathing in. Although we were assured that they don’t go for humans, I definitely swam a bit more gingerly the following day.

Arrowpoint

There are several other eco-friendly lodges like Arrowpoint situated in Amerindian areas and nature reserves around the country. Matt and I are planning a visit to another one towards the end of our stay. No doubt we’ll do a post about that too.

In the meantime, check out some pics Chris and I took at Arrowpoint on our Digital Guyana Flickr page.

Just a quick post to rectify a very common mistake.

We’re teaching in Guyana, otherwise known as the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana, which can be found on the northern coast of South America.

In fact, although it’s part of South America, the country has more in common with it’s close Caribbean neighbours. Here’s a map:

guyanamap

On the other hand, Ghana is a country in West Africa. A fine country, no doubt, but a long way from Guyana.

(Map used under Creative Commons)