Under a red-and-white striped tent, a monkey with the head of a rhinoceros tosses a barbell into the air with the greatest of ease. Meanwhile, 9-year-old Lake and 10-year-old Carson huddle in close to the iPad screen to survey the stop-motion scene they’ve just created.

They quickly deliberate on a name for their circus act while eight other fourth and fifth graders are paired off in a room supplied with paper, water colored pencils, tripods and iPads doing much of the same with their movies.

“Big Throw.”

“No, no that’s not it.”

They settle on Strong Rhonkey, inspired by their character, whom they dreamed up after selecting a “strong person” prompt out of a hat a day earlier.

Yesterday these students were watching animated films. Today they’re creating them, thanks in part to an intensive weeklong storytelling and animation summer camp run by a partnership between downtown Orlando’s Page 15 and UCF’s Center for Research and Education in Arts, Technology and Entertainment (CREATE).

The two organizations have wanted to partner together for years and were finally able to form the programming this year after they received a $100,000 grant from Walt Disney World Resort. The grant was one of five presented to nonprofit organizations throughout Central Florida.

The summer camp hosted two weeklong sessions at UCF Downtown’s Communication and Media Building (formerly the Center for Emerging Media) for a total of 20 fourth and fifth graders from the region. The first was held in June, and the second wrapped up this week.

Graduate students from UCF’s emerging media degree program served as mentors to the children and helped run the camp, which culminated in a showcase of their stop-motion circus-themed animation shorts to friends and family Friday.

“What these young people put together was incredible. All of us were really blown away. These camps give them really a unique opportunity to explore and stretch their creativity that they wouldn’t otherwise have in school,” says Julia Young, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Urban Think Foundation, whose Page 15 program provides educational and literary arts programming for local kids. “This partnership with UCF has been huge for us. To be able to expose these kids to college-level equipment and instructors in a space like this downtown campus, it really helps establish an atmosphere and environment that the kids get excited about and fosters their creativity.”

iPad screen focuses on drawing tapped to floor with a young boy moving the character in the drawing
Campers worked in teams of two and were each responsible for drawing a scene from a circus. Then, using a stop-motion app on an iPad, they moved their character in small increments and snapped photos of each movement — 50 to 70 photos creates about five to seven seconds worth of video.

Putting Pen to Paper

The animation camp was an extension of Page 15’s popular Young Writers Summer Camp. Nearly 30 children arrived every day at 9 a.m. and spent the next three hours alongside mentors — students from UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education and the College of Arts and Humanities — working on writing, illustrating and publishing their own book.

After lunch, a portion of the group migrated to the animation camp from 1 to 4 p.m., which was run by graduate students specializing in animation. Stella Sung, director of UCF CREATE and a Pegasus Professor, says all of the materials used in the camp — from pencils to paper to tablets — were of the same quality that UCF students and industry professionals use daily.

“We wanted the kids to understand this is the expectation and level of excellence we would want to see in the future,” she says. “They were small, short little pieces, but what folks don’t always understand is even five to 10 seconds of animation is a lot of work because everything is made. Every movement, every color, every line is made by somebody. Not only did the kids come up with the characters, but they found things they like and things they wanted to see or be or experience or imagine. I think these are the kinds of skills that translate into larger life skills.”

In addition to the summer camp, the Disney grant also helped fund CREATE’s after-school program partnership with Page 15’s Young Writers Society this past school year, which serves children from Orange County Public Schools’ downtown Academic Center for Excellence, a Community Partnership School.

Once or twice a week, 10 attendees of the program visited with CREATE’s students and staff to do much of the same work as the summer campers have. During National Poetry Month in April, some of the ACE students recorded spoken word in a sound booth with UCF students, who supervised the audio recording and mixing.

white drawing pad with penciled drawings
The campers learn about the 12 principles of animation and story board their scenes before creating their art.

Dana Barnes ’16, a UCF graduate student whose focus is in animation and visual effects, was tapped to be a mentor for the after-school program. He had served as a teaching assistant at UCF but says he wasn’t sure what to expect in working with children. He says he was so encouraged by his experience that he eagerly agreed to work the summer camp.

“Believe it or not, they understood the animation fundamentals better than some of the college students,” he says. “I think when you get older, something happens in your brain — you kind of overthink things, stumble on your thoughts. Kids don’t have that problem. They understood it immediately and were able to translate those skills into whatever medium we put in front of them, whether it was a sheet of paper, on the computer or on tablets. It was amazing to see how they took to the process.”

“Some of the parents had tears of joy. They were just like, ‘I had no idea my child was capable of doing anything like this.” — Dana Barnes, UCF grad student

He says the most rewarding part of this experience has been the parents’ reactions when they see the finished product their child has worked on all week to create.

“Some of the parents had tears of joy. They were just like, ‘I had no idea my child was capable of doing anything like this — I didn’t even know they could conceive something like this,’ ” he says. “That’s one of the most satisfying feelings ever.”

To Infinity and Beyond

Young says this year’s animation camps sold out quickly. The demand was so great that middle schoolers were requesting access to them.

Lake, creator of the monkey-rhinoceros, says he had done some coding but had never explored animation before this week. When asked what he has enjoyed most about this experience, he pauses and asks, “Can I say everything?”

Although the Disney grant was a one-year funding opportunity, Young and Sung are committed to finding more funding sources to not only keep the programming going, but expand it.

UCF also hosts a pre-college two-week intensive camp for high schoolers during the summer, and Sung says she would love a pipeline to form one day that could see a child start in the youth programs, transition to the pre-college level and eventually land at UCF as an animation student.

“It’s amazing to see these kids and the spark that happens when we help plant a little seed of what’s possible. As a director and educator, it’s hard to think of anything better than helping people achieve their goals. That’s what keeps me going,” she says. “If we identify students when they are younger and help them develop those skills, they will already be fairly advanced by the time they come to UCF and that will boost the program and industry as a whole.”