The child’s best-loved and most intense occupation is with his play or games.
Might we not say that every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own,
or, rather, re-arranges the things of his world in a new way which pleases him?

Sigmund Freud, “Creative Writers and Daydreaming”

The Story Teller’s Apprentice - Project Proposal

fairy tale generator

Proposal: To explore the possibilities for either a stand alone or web browser based application that will encourage students to think about the process of producing an original script for a stop frame animation based on traditional fairy tale structures supplemented by elements of random narrative creation, providing a teaching resource that will be engaging and fun.

The proposal arises out of a combination of my classroom teaching with year 7 and 8 students and my own explorations into the realms of narrative structure and interactive media. My target audience would therefore obviously be these 13 year olds.

The teaching that I have been doing in recent years is strongly influenced by early experimentation in animation, from the work of Eadweard Muybridge, Lotte Reiniger and Norman Mclaren, and devices such as the zoetrope, praxinoscope, and flip books. I have been exploring stop frame animation with my year 8 students, working with techniques such as cut paper, silhouette and simple reciprocating animation. This fits well with my reading of Vladimir Propp’s ‘Morphology of the Folk Tale’ Christopher Vogler’s ‘The Writer's Journey’ and by association, Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’. These are the main sources of inspiration for this proposal.

I have also been exploring the relationship between still and moving image; small interactive animations, inspired by the effect of ‘scrubbing’ through sequences of still images on an ipod, panoramic quicktime movies, and reciprocating animations created in Adobe Flash. I am fascinated by the plethora of flash ‘experiments’ online, little pieces that explore elements of movement and interactivity. There is a strong resonance in these pieces with elements of play; the need to turn a handle, pull a leaver; the equivalent to penny arcade machines, the pop up book, the ‘idle’ creativity of the doodle or fridge magnet poetry. There is an elemental excitement and power in the hyperlink; the button that makes something happen, takes you from one place to another. And there is potential in this, in relation to illustration, even if this interactivity is very basic; the ability to mouse over an image to animate it, explore a panoramic scene, rotate a virtual three dimensional object. I believe that there is a direct lineage between this type of experimental interactivity, and the sort of experimentation that cinematographers and animators were creating in the very early days of the moving image, and before, with magic lantern shows, phantasmagoria; the many wonderful devices of lens, mirror, and polished wood. Perhaps, as Dziga Vertov explored the language of film through his montage ‘Man with a Movie Camera’, the programmers creating interactive flash/web content are, wittingly or otherwise, extending this language to encompass new media. This connects with the concepts of spatial montage in Lev Manovich’s ‘The Language of New Media’.

The fairy tale generator would have advice on how to structure a story, with examples from classic fairy tales. There could be an ‘ask teacher’ avatar, generating random but fun answers to questions, or a ‘plot summary’ feature, to give potted summaries of classic stories, or perhaps more detailed information about story structure. The application might also include the ability to generate thumbnail illustrations to story board the script that is being generated.

The main concept of this proposal would simply be to create an entertaining interface through which my students would generate scripts for their animations. I have been experimenting with web based form generation in Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat.com, the ‘fairy tale generator’ would be an extension of this idea. My students (particularly the boys) tend to rush this part of the project, eager to get on with the actual process of animating with laptops, lights and cameras. By putting the script writing element of the project on the computer my intention would be to extend and develop this part of the project, to amuse and engage the students, and to make them think a little more clearly about the plot of the stories that they were creating.

If it were technically feasible I would like the students to be able to create and upload thumbnail sketches to illustrate their stories. I would also like to create a system of login accounts so that I could track the work of individuals or small groups.

In the background the application would store the sections of script that students are generating, giving me the possibility of using the same programme to generate truly random tales, based on chunks of text entered by students, along the lines of the Surrealist game ‘Exquisite Corpse’ or ‘consequences’. I am very interested in this concept of interchangeable, modular work, be it text or image, elements like houses in a street, railway trucks hooked together into a train, along the lines of the ‘myriorama’ (sets of cards that create an endless landscape, combinable in any combination; a popular 18 century curiosity). In my teaching I often try to create projects were the work of individuals or small groups can be combined at the end of the project into a larger work, or to get groups of students working on different aspects of a project. There is also a pleasing surrealist element to the concept of random story generation, and the possibility of amusing random results.

A final interest in relation to this proposal is the use of the silhouette as a device. Silhouette illustration is synonymous with fairy tale and myth. There are the artistic and historic links; to the figures on Greek vases, Egyptian art, oriental shadow theatre, and the European tradition of paper cut silhouette. But also the implication of the shadow in relation to the Jungian archetype, the collective unconscious, the universality of story; deeply embedded in the psyche. It interests me that Hans Christian Anderson was also a devotee of the cut paper silhouette.

The technical challenge with this proposal will be an application that is based on a combination of flash, web and database technology, with interaction, ‘drag and drop’ simplicity, and an enticing interface. The work completed to date is mostly experimental, along with the project work that I have done in school, but I am very keen to get a working prototype up and running in the new year, to test with my next group of year 8 students.