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A Movie in the Playground

In February 2015 I had a sudden realisation. My daughter (who had, amazingly, been ten years old for most of the previous twelve months) was not only turning eleven, but was in the final six months of primary school and about to enter secondary school.

A child passing from primary to secondary school is something of a milestone and as I pondered on that for a moment, a second realisation dawned: apart from the occasional school fair and weekend jumble sale, I hadn’t contributed any quality time to the kids’ school – at least not in a way that my son or daughter might be able to look back one day and fondly recall “that time dad came to school and did <something cool>”. In short I realised I hadn’t made enough of a mark and I wanted to change that.

At about the same time (after years of commuting to- and fro- the office watching Blender 3D tutorials on the train and thinking “if only I had more time!”) I finally found the justification at work for putting time towards making something useful, and 3D animated, in Blender: one of our internal clients at work wanted a 3D animated logo.

During my research for the logo project I’d stumbled upon this video tutorial of a transformer landing in a carpark. I discovered that the animation and the rig were made by Richard van der Oost, of  blendergrid.com, surfrender.com and CG Cookie. Busy guy! I wished there was a way I could use Richard’s amazing transformer but it seemed very advanced and difficult (whereas I’m very difficult and not very advanced).

It took only a moment to connect up these converging wishes (at least, in my head it did): to be able to make 3d animated *stuff* and to make something cool happen for my daughter at school (and by extension, kids in general).

Having come to terms with my limitations (I’d only scratched the surface of Blender’s CG animation capabilities) but nevertheless being nothing if not ambitious, I decided to get my ducks in a row and enlist the aid of genuinely experienced others – before I accidentally launched into an exercise in shooting my foot whilst having it lodged firmly in my mouth.

Reaching for help

I started by joining up on the CG Cookie site, and emailing Jonathan Williamson to ask for help with the transformer rig. To my great delight he agreed, and my Movie in the Playground was on reassuringly firm footing.

With CG Cookie’s commitment  to providing tech support in the bag I went back to my daughter’s school’s head teacher with an offer to make a short CG animated film starring Year 6 kids and a giant red robot.

I wrote off with a proposition: that I’d be willing to volunteer my time to work with Year 6 children in an “after-school club” focused on CG animation, VFX and film. My proposal was a carefully limited offering – the kids would get to create only their 3D names in Blender, and animate them in a number of cool ways (for example smoke text, ice text, fire text, particles and the like). Then we’d film a sequence in the playground where the kids would each say a line and then together they’d “reveal” the transforming robot that was parked in the background (which would dramatically transform of course, thanks to the assistance of the team at CG Cookie).

Again I was very fortunate – there was no difficulty in selling the concept to the school either. The head came back to me with an effusive Yes – I was now in danger of having the project actually kick off!

Follow the pilot program as it unfolds…



About Pete Dakin

Founder and curator of 3D Movie School Club