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A Creative Look at Pixar’s New Animated Feature, ‘Brave’

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

 

As you know, we at Madcap Logic are big fans of animation. That’s why when Pixar’s new big movie, ‘Brave’, came out this past Friday, we were all very excited.

‘Brave’ follows the story of a Scottish princess named Merida and her quest to become free of the responsibilities of being a soon-to-be queen. She had always had a fascination with archery, but her mother became more and more insistent on her education on how to be a proper princess. Soon, it is announced that Merida would have an arranged marriage, at which point Merida becomes furious and takes it into her own hands to change her destiny. However, things don’t go as planned, and she must reverse what she has done before it is too late. Throughout the film, the relationship between Merida, her mother, Queen Elinor, and her father is explored. In addition to the fact that this is Pixar’s first movie with a female lead, it is also the first in which both parents are present in the entirety of the plot.

What is really amazing in this new film is the animation: it took nearly three years and two programs to just make Merida’s hair, which is composed of 1,500 unique strands of hair, each controlled differently. Animators had to study curly hair and the way it moved to make the most lifelike version of the firey mane that Merida sports. The scenery and backgrounds were produced using 350 custom brushes in Photoshop, which were then layered to add depth and realism to the forests in ‘Brave’. Even the weapons used in the movie were studied – employees took archery lessons, and Mark Andrews, one of the directors of ‘Brave’, taught swordfighting to animators. Along with making Merida and the other characters move, the animators also had to work out what colors to use for the film, and they settled on vivid red hair – a warm color – for Merida and some more subdued hues for the nature areas (think about complimentary colors – red and green!). This makes the characters really stand out and adds a lot of variation in the animation. Throughout the production of the film, creativity was essential, as the animators and writers had to come up with solutions to problems and create the entire plotline, script, and scenes!

While ‘Brave’ experienced some difficulties in producing and directing the movie (Brenda Chapman was replaced as director by Mark Andrews), it is an amazing movie. The quality and realism of the animation made it difficult to look away, and the plot was both heartfelt and action-packed. If you haven’t seen it already, you should definitely give it a look!

Spring into Art!

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

 “Spring refreshes the soul, then refreshes the creative self.” – Anonymous

 New perspectives of young learners can provide essential energy for learning. For example, look up: an ever-unfolding canopy of trees spreads across the landscape. Sometimes, in an indoor learning setting kids get used to looking across rather than up or down.

 Outside, when we look up, there are the spreading spring leaves, and when we look down, there are bountiful floral surprises.

Sometimes, quite unbelievably, when one finds a tree or plant that does not seem to fit in a particular geographical place, it is especially interesting—like a magnolia tree on a campus in the Colorado Front Range! But I found one, and passers-by can hardly believe that—in late spring—it is really a blooming magnolia tree.

To learn more about trees, why not take the kids on a tree tour? This site is in Boulder, but tree tours can be found elsewhere as well.Or, perhaps take a Denver Botanic Gardens tour so that students can learn more about plant growth, research, and perhaps conservation alongside the arts by visiting the exhibits and perhaps attending an event at the Gardens?

What about seeing spring from the perspective of a plant or tree? OK, so I am a tree. What kind of a tree am I? What kind of leaves do I have? Am I a tree that grows locally or a tree that you saw on last year’s vacation with your parents or relatives? What if I am a magnolia flower? Where do I usually grow? When I grow in an unusual place, how might I survive? What kinds of supports (perhaps protection from the winds?) would I need?

 Then again, what if I were a 200-year-old cottonwood tree and one of my friends—call him Jerry or Mary, Joshua or Laura—wanted to build a tree-house in me?

Would I be strong enough to hold a little tree-house? What if the kids in your class thought so and wanted to design a tree-house that would suit a 200-year-old tree? How big is it? How do you build a tree-house without harming the tree? Will it have enough shade to keep you cool in my tree-house in the hottest months?

 Developmental skills kids could be working on with these activities could include observation, team-building, note-taking, guided question identification, “research,” and presentation skills. If you want to add another layer in class, play Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring;” spring does indeed bring gifts! So, let’s spring into spring and let nature guide our art and our perspectives!

 Arts are us!

Children in Art Museums

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

In my research in art museums many parents tell me they don’t feel comfortable taking children to the art museum. Their reasons vary. Some don’t feel knowledgeable enough about art and fear looking stupid. Others perceive there is nothing for children to do there and are concerned that either the children will damage something or be bored.

Most art museums offer a variety of enjoyable family programs and that are a good way to become familiar with the museum. Check the museum’s website for the family events schedule. Hint: Sometimes museuum websites hide the family programs under the “Education” tab. In addition, many art museums have interactive family galleries where everyone can have a hands-on, minds-on experience with art. Admittedly some art museums are more “family-friendly” than others but here are a few tips for getting the most out of a visit to any art museum.

1. Be curious. Let go of the idea that you need to be an expert. Children don’t worry about this, they just follow their interests. Keep in mind that typical visitor behavior in art museums is more like haphazard grazing than eating a full meal from start to finish, so let children “graze” according to their interests. Some interests will be momentary and others will be more sustained. Rather than feel you have to answer children’s questions, help them follow up on their own questions, ponder possibilities, and seek answers from someone at the museum, if possible, in books, and online.

2. Visit frequently. A trip to the art museum is not like a vaccination – once you’ve seen it you don’t need it again. Every time you go you discover something else, even if you look at the same art each time. A family museum membership is a good value and allows you to make many short visits, avoiding fatigue, and children wishing they were somewhere else. Visit often enough to feel comfortable there and learn your way around. Children like to feel an ownership of public institutions.

3. Plan ahead and be picky. Many visitors try to see the entire art museum in one visit. If you take repeated shorter visits then each visit can be focused on one part of the museum. Check on the museum’s website for exhibitions and collections on view. Let children participate in planning what to do. Explore the website further because many art museums, such as the Walters Art Museum, have special child-friend interactive sites.

Families in ArtSparks at the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY

4. Seek inspiration. Even if an art museum has no special family gallery or family programs when you visit, experience the museum as an artist might. Bring along sketchbooks (adults need to do this too) and color pencils. Most museums allow sketching in the galleries with pencils but check the policy. When you tire of standing and looking, find a place to sit and sketch. Some museums even allow you to sit on the floor but check that too. If there is a sculpture garden and the weather is nice, that’s a great place to sketch and maybe even have a snack – but remember, no food or drink in the museum galleries.

These are just a few ideas to get you started but there are many more. For example, Australian researcher, Katrina Weier, has good ideas for taking young children to the art museum. as does Erica Loop and Abby Margolis Newman.

The most important thing is to go, relax, and have a good time. So take your inner artist to an art museum!

Thanks for the great photos to Johnnie Utah, hoyasmeg at the High Museum of Art’s Greene Family Gallery in Atlanta, and the Speed Art Museum, ArtSparks in Louisville KY.

What is Visual Literacy?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

What is visual literacy? When we have the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from an image, or information presented in the form of an image, it can be said that we have visual literacy. It can also be considered a vision-competency, says John Debes. Many are familiar with the value of linguistic literacy, as found in the printed word through books and journals, but the importance of visual literacy is growing as it delivers information without the need for the print.

When traveling, we see a sign with a bicycle and a red diagonal line through it. As someone who is visually literate, a traveler knows that the sign means something to the effect of “Please do not ride your bicycle here.” Likewise, if we see a sign with the picture of a child and a ball, with no red line through it, we understand it to mean “Children playing; please watch out for them.”

Several 21st century scholars, including Courtney Cazden, Allan Luke, and others advocate for the importance of both linguistic and visual literacies as modalities in the process of meaning-making. Implications, then, for classroom or home-schooling would be to incorporate the written word with visual information to provide a rich teaching and learning environment. For example, one might give kids a picture and asking them to write a caption or an empty cartoon and asking them to fill in the speech balloons to see what kinds of different interpretations emerge.
Exciting fields effective in visual literacy training include art history in all its glory: paintings, drawings, sculpture, architecture, even textile design and furniture design. Of particular delight to students in these fields are uses of color, texture, style, shape, size, and form. Who is not visually delighted when confronted with patterns of colors, which convey excitement, cheer, and suggest lively festivities?

In terms of learning tools, one visual tool used in teaching environment is PowerPoint, intended to present information visually. One expert on visual literacy, Edward Tufte, a Yale professor and an expert on the presentation of information graphics, offers us a challenge: Do the slides communicate? His interest focuses on the efficacy of the tool rather than simply the happy opportunity to have the tool.

Thus, visual literacy not only refers to learning through the visual experience but learning useful, helpful, and usable information! It is easier for a student to make meaning when not only information is provided but information that a child can use to make meaning of her or his world.

Learning is delicious in whatever form. In capable teaching hands, linguistic and visual literacy make wonderful partners. For the learner, integrating these with other modalities—such as music—continue to expand learners’ meaning-making capabilities.

Thank you, trinchetto, for the colorful photo of lights!

How Artists See

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Colleen Carroll knows the value of visual literacy. The mother of three girls and an educator found herself creating the art book that didn’t exist. Actually a series of them.

How Artists See, a popular 12-volume series of art books, was written and designed to teach children about art. But not at all like the boring dusty volumes filled with dates and facts.  Each of these simple books take children through a familiar subject, animals, heroes, feelings, weather, etc. Young readers are encouraged to come up with their own ideas and responses, prompted by everything from cave paintings to contemporary art. The open-ended questions in the book stress individuality, and encourage one’s own. Children relate to various artists, empathize with their feelings, culture, tools, times.  Through this lens, they see how the work came to be.

Carroll, who started college as a photography major, soonwent on to Art History.  She eventually taught sixth-graders in Southern California, and found no visual arts instruction (or music, dance, and drama). That led her to develop an art appreciation curriculum that dovetailed with the world cultures social studies curriculum. The kids loved it.

 But how did all this start?

“One of my earliest memories of art is looking through a monograph on the Italian master, Leonardo da Vinci. The book was a tome: it was absolutely huge and must have weighed 20 pounds. Every so often my father would hoist it off the shelf and let me flip through the pages. While I was too young to read the text, the plates captivated and mesmerized me. The power of the artwork spoke to me and touched my spirit. Even though I didn’t know who made the beautiful pictures, somewhere deep down I knew I was communicating with a genius.”

By creating the series Carroll makes Da Vinci, and other geniuses accessible to the young. As an art educator, Carroll knows firsthand, the importance of the arts.

“Great art is a powerful visual tool that stretches across many barriers: language, class, race, and literacy, to name a few particularly wide ones. Exposing young children to art sparks the imagination, and when shared with a parent, teacher, caregiver or even a peer, promotes dialogue, vocabulary growth, and critical thinking. Introducing young children to art from a broad range of cultures and time periods builds background knowledge and teaches them that there is a bigger world beyond the one that they know. Interacting with art can help young children grasp abstract concepts, such as hope, justice, and courage. In an increasingly visual world, early experiences with looking and talking about art build visual literacy and analytical skills: skills that are becoming more and more important to possess.”

 Sharing art with children is so simple, yet rich. Carroll lives her life like she teaches it.

“When I was completing the research for my new book series, How Artists See, Jr., the time had come to choose the final images for the volume which looks at dogs in art. I had already done the first cut, but was having difficulty selecting from the fifty or so images left on my list. My kindergarten daughter happened to be home from school with a tummy ache, so I asked her to help me. Spreading the prints out on the living room floor I said, ‘Honey, come on down here and pick out your favorite pictures.’ Within minutes she had the prints in a neat stack, her favorites at the top and least favorites at the bottom. Without prompting, she began to tell me why she liked some dogs better than others, and what certain ones looked like to her (critical thinking and evaluation, expressive language). I share this anecdote to illustrate how fun, educational, and easy it is to share art with young children. Their innate curiosity and imagination, paired with rich imagery is, indeed, a potent learning tonic.”

Lucky girls, Carroll’s three.

 “That Leonardo book? It’s now on my bookshelf within arm’s reach of my own children.”

Maybe this holiday is a good time to gift your own family with a special art book. Visit the art section of a local bookstore and let your children explore. See what they find interesting. You might just be surprised.

Design is Everywhere

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Check out that monitor you’re looking at? Ever wonder who designed it? Or how about that mouse you’re clicking? The pen sitting on your desk. The desk itself. The clothes you’re wearing, the car you’re driving. Or even still—the seats in your car, all the way down to the springs, in the seat, in the car you’re driving. All designed by someone.

Design is everywhere—we just tend to take it for granted. We really don’t notice how everything is designed, but we’re drawn to the design—either consciously, or subconsciously. We don’t really know why we want the cool new cell phone, or the latest fashions. We just do. It’s all about the design.

Try this test. Take a minute out of your day to pick an object—could be anything, a radio, tv, shampoo bottle, coffee cup, a spoon, a fork—anything. Then consider the design. The shape/contour/materials/color, etc. Then, think about how design ties into that object on multiple levels.

Example: a designer designed the plastic earpiece from the phone on my desk, which required a mold (which required a designer), made by a machine (which required a designer), which has a bunch of crazy parts (which required a designer)…. you get my point. The links become nearly infinite.

Now, consider the power of design, how it influences your life and how it ties in to creativity. Design is everywhere.

Chris Stevenson
Madcap Logic Graphic Designer

Meet the Players….Randy Parker

Thursday, November 13th, 2008


Randy Parker, Founder Madcap Logic

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist after growing up.”
Pablo Picasso

How many of us start out as creative little beans, slapping colors around, mucking with clay, paste, crayons? Happy. Yet at some point, we start to feel inadequate. Maybe someone said something unkind. Maybe no one said anything at all.

This is one of the reasons Parker created Creativity Express.

“My main goal was to open that back up. Kids are wild, fearless at a young age. Yet at some point, that shuts down.” By using the animated software, kids get to learn about artists, their techniques, their tools, and become artists themselves.
“I contend that everyone has artistic abilities.”

The whole idea started as a museum guide for kids. Parker wanted to create a bridge between museums and schools, he worked with the staff at The National Gallery of Art to develop the program. . Kids would learn about the art in advance, then walk the great halls with enhanced perspective and information. However, the teachers noted the value of the software, in and of itself.  Nothing like it existed, so the project grew into a more structured tool, with a full curriculum. Parker and team brought in the Institute for Learning Innovation. Full on art 101.”I didn’t even know what the word pedagogy meant.” says Parker.
Together they built a fun tool that teaches kids everything art, from Anasazi culture to wax resist technique.
The program also encourages creativity through games and activities.
Everyone should express their inner artist, we are now finding important links between expression and the brain. Yet kids either don’t have opportunities to be creative, or feel like they have to excel, in this go go age.

“We stigmatize ourselves,” says Parker.  “Yet we all have the capability to be creative.”
Parker knows creative. At the helm of Disney’s famed computer animation department, he worked with teams of gifted graphic artists for twelve years. Although his own background was film study, he was immersed in a world of visual literacy.
The studio is known for intense preparation, each film undergoes a 3-4 year process of detailed research. For the film, Mulan, several dozen artists went to China to absorb firsthand, cultural traditions, the landscape, color palettes, quality of light. This depth of experience informs Creativity Express. Parker seeks to hone a child’s senses of observation and context through the software program. One theme running throughout is artists observing other artists, techniques, cultures and emotional states.

The current trend towards arts integrative learning is being welcome by many champions of the whole brain.
“Our education system doesn’t encourage right brain thinking, and that’s a shame.,” says Parker. Think Pink.
“However, I do think there is a wave picking up here,”says Parker, who has witnessed the teachers’ enthusiasm for early creativity.
“I have heard teachers say ‘If we don’t teach kids art in second grade, we’re going to have a really hard time teaching them physics in eleventh grade.’”
Parker agrees –our brains work holistically – the challenge for parents and teachers is how to bring these two capacities back together.
“They are both important, the left brain holds the factoids, the right brain tells it what to do with all that.” says Parker.  “Imagination, it’s more important than knowledge.”

Art Smart

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

One thing on everyone’s minds these days is the role of arts, and children, and are they getting enough. Or in the crunch to meet standards, do we just focus on the old R and R (reading/’rithmetic). Which would be a shame. Research tells us that children exposed early, and often to the arts fare better in tests, careers and life. But sometimes we see arts getting booted pretty low on the priority list. Or off the list.

Some people understand the need for a meaningful arts education.

  • Neuroscientists get it. Training in the arts improves cognition.
  • Teachers get it. Students who participate in the arts have higher test scores and lower drop-out rates.
  • Corporate leaders get it. Terry Semel, past chairman of Warner Bros., said, “Art is central to a civilized society. Kids who create don’t destroy.”

Thinker/writer, Daniel Pink notes that we are at the end of a binary-only thinking era. Students who can think imaginatively, creatively, or “outside the box” will become the most attractive workers for global corporations. Arts education prepares young minds for non-linear thinking.

As the oft-quoted Elizabeth Murfee writes in her 1995, Making a Case for Culture, “Drawing helps writing. Song and poetry make facts memorable. Drama makes history more vivid and real. Creative movement makes processes understandable.”

Socially, arts have proven to be an effective outreach tool to engage youth. Self esteem, cooperation, resilience improves when students have been exposed to the arts.
And lastly, what of the joy and wonder the arts offer the mind and spirit? Arts play a key role in the life of a child.

With thanks for a great image to Nicole Marti

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