Adventures in Drama and Digital animation

Animated backdrop of The Lion King savanna

A group of researchers from UCL IOE secured funds from the UK Literacy Association (UKLA) to develop a project to explore re-inventing the end of year primary school play: the idea was for children to design, build and control a digitally animated backdrop integrated with the dramatic action. The study was premised on the idea that literacy practices are constantly evolving to encompass everyday digital routines, vernacular storytelling, and multimodal forms, in dialogue with established drama and expressive practices.

Manipulating the puppets on a light box

In June 2021, a Year 6 class worked with professional animators from Margate-based theatre group ‘1927’ to develop silhouette puppets that would eventually become part of the animated set design for the end of year staging of ‘The Lion King’. Several animated sequences were created in the Stop Motion app, on top of a light box, making use of layered craft materials. These separate files were then edited in iMovie, embedded in Powerpoint slides and projected onto a large screen. During the performances, at key points in the script, the control of both slides and soundtrack (using an iPad over bluetooth) were the sole responsibility of two Year 6 pupils at the side of the stage.

The Lion King Stampede scene

The inspiration for the project came from 1927’s particular theatrical approach. Theirs is a unique and innovative aesthetic incorporating drama, mime, recorded narration, live music and most notably digitally projected animations with which the actors interact. We suggest that the blending of digital media with puppetry, moving image, music, song, live action, the spoken word, lights, the visual and performing arts, and everyday software, is an example of modern integrative creative practice that could be ubiquitous in schools.

In the coming months we will be writing up our reflections on the implications for literacy practices of the performative dimensions of digital animation, and in particular the meaningful productive roles that emerged for those non-stage-performing creatives and technicians. We support and celebrate the creative media skills and achievements of these young artists, editors, collagists and digital animators, and hope to illuminate the ways in which practical animation work enriches children’s understanding of text-making as material narrative exploration in non-linear time and space.

Dr. Michelle Cannon, Dr. Sara Hawley, Dr. Theo Bryer, Rebecca Wilson