Smile a While: Kid Animation

Pear contemplates bear in kid animation Jonah and Ben Foutz
One of the ways my sons, Ben and Jonah Foutz, wiled away the social isolation hours was to create this computer animation, where a Pear contemplates what it rhymes with.

Kids Coding: Pear Meets Bear

We’re five days in — or, is it seven? Nine? — to the endeavor of social isolation, and though I have no inkling of how we’ll fare by the end of this week, we’ve so far found some productive ways to keep from climbing the walls.

Case in point: my pretty wonderful kids. I have three of the bustling balls of energy: Jonah, 13; Ben, 11; and Caleb, 6. During their furlough from elementary and middle schools, respectively, while sharing the house with an 8-to-all-hours Dad, they managed to entertain themselves in a variety of mostly-not-mindsucking ways, while I was sort of, kind of even productive. Mostly.

Here’s one of them that might bring you a smile in these dreary times.

Though our Corona-Virus-dodging days were most productively divided into segments where the boys were separately focused on their own things, occasionally, magically, I would emerge from my own imposed sentence to the end of our dining room table, where I’d erected my work rig for the day, to hunt them down in an eerily quiet house.

I’d shout up to Caleb, “CALEB, are you playing?” And his voice would drift down, from the bedroom on the end, “No. I’m reading.” Well. Great!

Caleb also found time to fashion a thirty-five page comic book, which took him the better part of three straight hours one morning while I bulldozed through calls and emails, only to look up when he was asking me to staple said pages together. Glad to, buddy! And: wow!

Ben, inevitably, bounced from his beloved YouTube videos of XBox gamers engaged in Rocket League, and Minecraft, and more, to playing those same games in our basement family room. But he also found time to fill more pages in his succession of sketch books and stage an epic race day scene by combining his slot car track with his trains and various cars and spectators.

Jonah, our oldest, is into recording for the last year or so, on a variety of devices. He’d tote his portable voice recorder and sample sounds from our synthesizer downstairs, or that he’d found online or in our CD shelves, and then mix them in interesting ways with various phone apps or SoundCloud when the PC was free. He really zeroed in on a Hawaiian song, Tahiti Mahune, we’d put on his baby boombox long, long ago and was turning it into various sound effects. Wild!

But it was late one afternoon as I wound down work and wondered where everyone had gotten to that I stumbled upon Ben and Jonah upstairs, working harmoniously. Hmmmmm….

Pear, Meet BEAR!

Our school district treated this week as three snow days plus the two vacation days we were going to get anyway Thursday and Friday. But Jonah, for one, was rarin’ to go, checking his Chromebook he’d brought home from school every morning for the assignments rumored to be landing there.

That all begins this week. (Oh, boy.)

But he made use of the otherwise empty hours by writing stories the first couple days. And, on the day I’d found him and Ben working side by side, going to the kid coding site presented by MIT, Scratch, to work on animation and games.

If you — or your kids — haven’t yet checked out Scratch, well, get on with it! They teach concepts like coding, and storytelling, and animation, in a fun, visual way. And the games kids create are playable and shareable with that community. I use it for Cub Scouts each year as a game design elective for my Webelos 2 (5th graders).

Jonah and Ben are old hands at Scratch by now, so the stuff they churn out these days is surprising in its charm and humor, and verging on some really functional complexity.

Take their first installment from this week, Pear Meets Bear. Storyline: A pear announces himself: “I’m a pear!” And a voice off screen asks, “What rhymes with Pear?” Pear thinks it over. Oh yeah: bear! And a vicious example presents itself. “AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!”

Animation and voices by Ben and Jonah, as well as the programming. Fun stuff!

As a further layer to this story, I could see them adding animations for other rhyming words: chair, lair, hair, stare. Opportunities for enhanced pear humor!!!

A day or so later they took their creativity forward several keyboard taps with their game, Skink vs. Dark Skink.

I recognized Skink from their various original comic characters. On screen, his green and black versions jump into life against a bleak cityscape. They hop around to some music provided by Scratch, and trade boxing blows, gradually depleting each other’s health points until one is the victor and one the loser.

The animation was again done by Ben and Jonah.

This one was interesting enough that it invited feedback. What if there was a noise to indicate when either Skink landed a blow? (On screen, it was tough to tell when this happened as the music never changed and the punches just landed silently.) What if the amount of depleted hit points affected how well the character moved and attacked? What about music for victory? Music for defeat? You could tell they were hooked into the design when they started to think critically about how to make it even better.

Plus, Caleb loved playing the game.

So this week has not all been cramming computers onto dining tables and clawing at each other due to our cramped proximity. There’s been some helpings of fun as the bleak uncertainty stretched on. Let’s hope we, and you, and everyone, keep finding new avenues to explore, even from home. Good luck, and good health, all!

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