Animation today is associated with expensive box office productions, computerization, and Disney/Pixar morality tales with threads of simple love stories. Easy to watch, yes, for about LE 20 at the cinema, but to make?
Lay people don t simply make animation films. Students though, are another matter.
Animation creation will soon be accessible to Egyptian children and youth through collaboration between renowned Swedish animator and TV producer Erling Ericsson, Save the Children, The Townhouse Gallery, and participating NGOs.
Ericsson, who has been working with children for over 20 years, says he is fighting a battle against technology in favor of simplicity. We don t allow things to be simple. They have to be complicated.
The Animate It workshop hosted by the Townhouse Gallery for five consecutive days to train various participants, educators, and NGOs to promote children s rights through teaching animation, is simple in both concept and technique.
Small groups huddle around their animation boxes watching what they create on a monitor in front of them. Scraps of colored paper appear all over the tables and floor, the remnants of cut-out children, backdrops, and monsters.
The process always begins with a story, explains Ericsson. He says a simple storyboard motivates those children otherwise uninterested or unable to write, to piece together some words in order to create the story they desire. Next, simple drawings are sketched to represent the sequence of the film. Figures and backdrops are then drawn and cut out, limb by limb, piece by piece.
In the end, a movable scene is laid out on the table in front of the animators. A camera atop the box takes pictures with the click of a button, which are then displayed on a screen in front of the animators. When the sequences are complete, the film is ready for the audio component.
But why go to all the trouble?
People think it is very difficult. It is. But that makes it even more interesting.
Ericsson believes animation provides an innovative and motivating way to stimulate, teach, and entertain children and youth, as well instill the values of patience and teamwork.
It is the only form of expression that combines all the different ways of communication.
Ericsson says the program is particularly useful for children in the Arab region to stimulate the imagination. He explains how one student told him that nobody could jump over the moon, as was depicted in one of his films. You can t do that, he said. Days later, he was creating his own fantasy images.
In contrast, Ericsson says children living on the street in Cairo tend to be very imaginative and open-minded.
Most often though, children s films reflect loneliness, and a longing for friendship, he explains.
Taki Eddin, who works with children with disabilities, says the technique is excellent for those he works with. They will express themselves and their thoughts, their problems, so we will know how to reach them.
What Essam Abdullah notices in the workshops he already runs for Townhouse aimed at working children is that they are consumed by the process, leaving no room for problems to arise. He says they learn problem-solving and how to deal with each other.
Of course, it is not only children who will enjoy the process. The trainers present are clearly having a good time with their stories.
One group with representatives from NGOs in Menya is producing a traditional film to teach children good manners and behavior throughout the day, like brush your teeth, be good to your parents, do your homework.
The rest of the productions are varied, some leaning toward lessons useful for children, others involving more elaborate storylines and fantasy.
Ericsson hopes that teachers will not interfere too much. When they do, he says, the films end up being about lessons. I prefer that they create from their own experience. If you can catch them from the very beginning, they become strong enough to ask for permission to tell their own stories.
He adds that the medium is a powerful tool for self-expression, as the only technique which combines writing, storytelling, drawing, sound, and movement.
Beyond education and entertainment though, the organizers and trainers are attempting to address a more serious issue: children s rights. Some rights may be realized by the process itself, including their right to express themselves and their opinions, and their right to make some decisions in their lives. Other rights are sometimes tackled in the content, such as the right to be protected from violence.
Townhouse Gallery conducts a Friday workshop for working children which includes an animation component. Save the Children is running “Animate It with Ericsson in five other Arab countries, including Palestine and Yemen.