Crazy Talk
The following is a description of a series of lessons that I devised in October and November 2008 for a year 7 art group, to make the use of Reallusion’s ‘Crazy Talk’. This software has been nominated for an award at this years Bett show, so I was asked to produce both for a reference and a case study. In relation to my ideas for the Fairy Story generator, ‘Crazy Talk’ was one of the possible solutions for the creation of a talking teacher, who would answer questions, or perhaps a narrator, who would introduce the story and guide the user through the use of the application.

User Study for Reallusion: ‘Crazy Talk’ in the classroom.

A series of lessons were based around four famous portraits from four centuries of art history: Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self Portrait from 1660, Van Gogh’s self portrait of 1889 and a late portrait by Picasso of Sylvette David, the ‘girl with a ponytail’.

I started by outlining the project, showing reproductions of the chosen works and discussing them in relation to the period in which they were created, the way in which they were created, asking the students for initial impressions and giving a little background information on the four artists.

The students then did a copy of the Mona Lisa using charcoal. Charcoal is a very elemental medium, wood and fire, as old a drawing implement as it is possible to get! We talked a little about Leonardo’s use of sfumato; working with soft edges, the gradual and subtle blending of edges that is most famously noted in relation to his painting of the Mona Lisa. For homework students were asked to find out a little about both Leonardo Da Vinci and the Mona Lisa and to write a paragraph to include some of the information that they discovered, but written in the from of a script of what the sitter might have been saying to Leonardo while sitting for him.

During the week my homework was to photograph the transcriptions that the students had produced and to load them on to a PC.

In the second lesson we introduced the self portrait by Rembrandt. We talked a little about the technique of Chiaroscuro; the use of strong contrast between the dark background and brightly lit face, wondering if this portrait was painted by candle light. Students then made copies of Rembrandt’s self portrait using white chalk on black paper.

While students were creating these transcriptions, groups of two or three students at a time recorded their Mona Lisa scripts onto computer. We used two devices for this recording. The students are very used to Apple’s music programme ‘Garage Band’ as they have been using this software in their music technology sessions. By using the ‘podcast’ template for recording, there is no need to do anything other than to hit the record button, the stop button, and the save button. The second device I used is a handheld recorder recently purchased for about £140 (the zoom H2 that also works with the click of a record button, saving .wav files directly on to an SD memory card.

As with the first lesson, students were asked to do some research on the life and work of the artist and to write a short script about what he might be thinking to himself as he painted this self portrait. Some of the students wrote their scripts on computers at home, and emailed them back to me at school.

In the third session students worked from Van Gogh’s self portrait of 1889, working with oil pastel, and directed in particular to reproduce the effect of the strong swirling brush marks in this painting, introducing the students to the term ‘impasto’ and talking a bit about the short and troubled life of the artist. I also demonstrated ‘Crazy Talk’ to the group.

While students were working on this transcription, small groups again made recordings of the scripts that they had created to go with their Rembrandt drawings, and two students used ‘Crazy talk 5’ to combine their ‘Mona Lisa’ scripts with the photographs of the reproductions that they had created in the first week. Crazy talk 5 is such a simple programme to use that they needed the briefest of instruction before being left to work out for themselves how to create their talking drawings. Once these two students had got to grips with Crazy Talk though experimentation, by watching the tutorials that came with the software and through my demonstration, they could pass this knowledge on to the next pair of students.

For homework students were asked to do research and a script as before, this time on the imagined thoughts of Vincent Van Gogh.

In the final two weeks of the project students created a collage based on Picasso’s portrait of the girl with a pony tail. In this final reproduction we talked about artistic interpretation and abstraction, but also about the process of sitting for a portrait. Sylvette David, the young girl who sat for this portrait age 18 is now over 80, and an artist in her own right. She has recently talked about her experiences sitting for Picasso in a television documentary, and also features in a children’s book by Laurence Anholt called ‘Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail’, which tells the story of her experience with the artist.

While students created these collages, as before pairs of students recorded their scripts and created their animations in Crazy talk.

With the time and resources available to us is was not possible for all the students to create individual movies in Crazy Talk, but by the end of this set of sessions all the students had experienced either the voice recording or computer manipulation, and we had a number of finished ‘Crazy Talk’ animations to exhibit alongside the wonderful transcriptions and scripts that all the students had produced.