Monday, August 19, 2013

Teaching Demibooks Composer Studio: What I Learned

I just had my first experience teaching the iPad app production software I have been using for about 6 months, Demibooks Composer Studio. I was very pleased with the students projects but have some definite ideas about how I will go about introducing the production process with this software in the future.

Show A Wide Variety of Samples

My students at the Lynchburg College residential Governor's School of Math, Science and Technology were distracted by the fact that my work and the samples available within the software were all young children's media. Also, the Composer Studio in-app samples were all in book format. For most of the students, the idea of making a kids picture book was not all that exciting.

I wish I had known about this video. You don't need to understand the language to want to know more about this game, Origem. An iPad version is soon to be released in the US. (in English) Here are some stills from the video. Origem is based on an ancient game indigenous to South America.

Ancient board game for the iPad developed by Marcelo Raymundo with Demibooks Composer
Origem developed by Marcelo Raymundo

game app developed by Marcelo Raymundo
As Composer products are used by a wider range of producer/developers, I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Give Students A Specific Assignment

Being very specific may sound like a no brainer, but I really like to give students in the Gov School environment a lot of freedom. I make a big deal at the beginning of the course that I want to them to work on projects that excite them. I envisioned that they would be interested in making interactive comic books, graphic novels and games.

However, that is not at all the way I have approached teaching Flash to students over the years. Exercises for skill building are different. I have a very set protocol.  I start with a blank keyframe animation of something like fireworks to get students used to the interface and the timeline. Then we work into a short linear character animation.  We look at that delightful Pixar animation of the lamps. My point being a simple inanimate object can be an endearing character. Of course Luxo is a very sophisticated character created by geniuses in the field, but I hope they get my point. A box or a line can be an endearing or charismatic character.

PIxar's Luxo, Jr.  Character animation at its finest.

Ideas for Skill Building in Composer Studio

Project 1:A possible first project might be to set up a series of pages and a navigation system that mimic a simple 5 page website of their choice. It could be all text based, text being the one asset that can be created in Composer Studio. The students would not be concerned about designing a document, they would be using an existing interactive structure to explore the app.  

Project 2:All of the students had just created an interactive project in Flash. A good second project would be to rebuild that same project, the assets have all been built. That provides the opportunity to import assets, an essential skill, and begin to learn the system for programming interactivity. Some of the students had previous programming experience but none of them seemed to have major obstacles getting used to the system in Composer Studio.

"All About Me" projects have been popular in the past. It's a great way for the students to share information and photos with other students in the class and for me to learn more about then too.  Assets are most likely on their phones or easily accessible and they can get right to the tasks at hand, importing and designing. My favorite graphic novel is Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. This is her story about growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution. It was also made not an animated film. Great inspiration for a personal project.

Project 3:  I love the idea of assigning an interactive project to make chocolate chip cookies. I let them adapt that idea very broadly. One Gov School student did a project about how to bowl. The very inspiring example I show them is Emily Birr's Origami instructional animation created in my Flash class at Northern Va. Community College/Alexandria many years ago. She did a brilliant job.

What's the Take Away?

I am remembering the Sandbox Summit at MIT in April and being introduced to the work of musician Chris Donnelly.  He has a fascinating discussion about creativity and structure on his blog.

I need to remember that there is a balance between too much and too little structure and how that affects the creative process. I need to be sure not to err on the side of not delivering enough structure to stimulate the best outcomes. I have a million ideas for things I'd like to do, that doesn't mean the students come into my class with that same archive of ideas and the ability to work independently to make them happen.

1 comment:

  1. I'm about to start a Composer project with my 6th grade class. I agree that a simple structured project to start is the way to go. I think I will have each student do one page of the book. The theme will be influential artist and each student will research and find a way to use the app best to give an interesting way to present the findings about each artist. I'll let you know if it works.