Michael Fabisiak is the principal of Little Angels School in Letterkenny, Co, Donegal. Little Angels is a multi-denominational school which caters for students with moderate, severe and profound learning disabilities and students with autism.
The pupils involved in making the film in 2013 were aged between 7 and 13 years old and all have autism. In this diary Michael outlines how the pupils worked together to produce their film Little Lamb. It is an example of how children with special needs can achieve and celebrate their achievement alongside their peers. The children all contributed to the film in a positive way and each child’s contribution was significant.
Using an old laptop with the Windows 2000 operating system and a Digital Blue camera, I made a very short animation in front of the children and the SNAs using various toys from around the classroom.
The Digital Blue movie maker software is very easy to use but only runs on operating systems up to Windows XP. There are probably contemporary versions of this for sale but this one suited our needs.
In the past, when working in mainstream classes, I have used paper and pencil drawings to show the concept of stop motion animation but with this class I showed them (and the SNAs) the actions and steps necessary to create an animation – and the end result.
I started with a toy tractor (this being Donegal) and quickly took snapshots of it moving forwards across the desk then back. For the first few sessions the children, particularly Reece who is very computer literate, were allowed access to the camera and were able to experiment with filming various toys in stop motion. Most of the children did this with hand over hand help from me or their SNAs.
In Little Angels we try to enable the children as much as possible and offer them as many experiences and opportunities as possible. In order to make this possible it is necessary for us to use Hand Over Hand (HOH) with some of the children. With this in mind I made sure that the children all had an active involvement in the making of our film and that the film would not have been made in its entirety if not for the contributions of all of the children.
Some of the children were responsible for making the animal noises, some made the sets, one child chose the music and two of the children filmed most of the animations. All of the children were given an opportunity to film with the camera. Reece was able to create a small film after being shown only once. Initially he was impatient and moved the toy he was filming too quickly or he would take the image when his hand was still in the frame. For a time this became an obsession for him and it took some time to get him to film without his hand in the scene. Other days he would select a toy that did not fit into the farm theme and only film with it for a day. At one point only Sonic the hedgehog could be filmed.
When it became apparent that Reece would be able to film scenes on his own we decided to make a short film to show at our class assembly. This would also give us a deadline to work towards, which is very important.
Our assembly was to take place on February 28th so we had 7 weeks to make the sets and film the scenes. At the time the children were about to learn about springtime on the farm and the farm toys were readily available to the children. As the children were experimenting with the digital blue camera, Reece decided to use the lamb from the farm toys and he created a very small animation. From this we decided to make a farm-themed film.
Creating the set
It was decided that the sets should be made in such a way as to look impressive but be easily made.
The children painted sheets of A3 paper with the relevant colours. For the initial scene we needed an A4 sheet painted green for the grass and hills, a lighter shade of green for the far away hills and blue for the sky. With help, the children painted the sheets of paper.
After the paint had dried the children stuck cotton wool sheep onto the hills. The blue background was then stuck to the inside of a cardboard box and the green painted paper stuck adjacent to it. The children cut out rough semi-circular shapes for the hills and stuck them over the blue sky background.A yellow circle was cut out of coloured paper and stuck on for the sun.
The opening scenes were filmed at this stage using a freeware animation programme called Animator DV and a web cam. The digital blue camera would not film close-up scenes. We painted lambs on the hills next to the sheep then took and images as each lamb was ‘born’. This was probably the easiest scene to film as we could all work together, taking turns to paint the lambs and take the image.
Filming Scenes With the Background
We stuck the camera to the desk with sellotape and blue-tacked the new background against the wall and the table.
Reece and Thomas were given some farm animals, one at a time, to add to their movie scenes. One of the SNAs brought in a little figure from their daughter’s doll house and we decided that this would be Mary. I showed Reece how to move Mary like she was taking steps. This was the most difficult part as I had to help Reece understand that Mary couldn’t keep falling over. Eventually I decided to make sure an SNA or I was present when filming.
This meant that every scene was done as we hoped and that we didn’t have to look through dozens of scenes to find one that would fit into the story. I decided that we would make each scene as simple as possible and have each one similar to the previous. Each scene should be no more than 10 seconds long too.
Creating Additional Backgrounds and Filming
We created the rest of the backgrounds in the same way as the original, in that we kept everything very simple. It had been decided that the story should be based on Mary had a Little Lamb and that the lamb should be looking for its mother then should follow Mary to school. It was decided that Mary should walk through woods, through a city and even go on holiday before heading to school.
Editing the Footage
After I felt that we had enough scenes to make a small movie, I looked at editing the footage. I used Windows Movie Maker to put the scenes together. I kept Reece beside me as I chose which scenes to put into the film. Later that day I found Reece editing some of the footage himself!
Due to the children’s special needs, our evidence of learning is often based around photographs. This being the case, we had a lot of images of the children working on the movie. I decided to add these images to the end of the film and have credits over these. On the original version the credits matched the pictures but for child protection reasons this changed. After reviewing more of the footage filmed I decided to add some of the less coherent scenes in as outtakes. This was also to stretch the length of the film and to make the credits more interesting.
Adding the Sound
To record the sound we used Christopher’s fondness for animal sounds. I used a microphone and Audacity. Thomas did very good impressions of a sheep and a cow. Christopher did the pig noise and part of the lamb and Reece recorded more lamb sounds. For Mary I followed Stephanie around with the microphone and recorded her for about 5 minutes. I worked out how long each soundbite would need to be and increased or trimmed the sounds accordingly. I used Windows Movie Maker to add the sound to the film.
Choosing the music was very easy. Leo loves Bruce Springsteen and his favourite song is ‘Working on a Dream’. We used Audacity to remove the singing from the song for the intro then simply added the song onto the film for the end credits.
Advertising the Movie
Posters were made up from the scenes. I used an online website that made images into movie style posters. For this I chose some of the snapshots taken during filming and some we set up afterwards.
The posters were pinned up around the school and it was decided that we would premiere the film at our class assembly. None of the staff or students outside of our class knew anything about the movie or why the posters were up around the school. The SNAs were sworn to secrecy
We used old black out curtains and some back sugar paper to black out the windows of the school hall. There was a buzz of anticipation as the children and staff entered the school hall for assembly. Before showing the movie each member of the class demonstrated how we were able to make the film. The children demonstrated painting, cutting, recording sound and filming the movie. This actually built up a little confusion among the audience and I had considered showing them how the film was made after they had seen it.
I used a data projector to show the movie on the wall of the assembly hall and the audience were duly impressed. A copy of the film was given to each class and to the parents of the children. The movie was the talk of the school for a while and one teacher suggested that we should enter it into the 2013 FIS Film Festival. The rest is history…