Blogs/ Digital Underground/ Creative Technologist Spotlight: Ancient Play at Children's Museum of the Arts

Creative Technologist Spotlight: Ancient Play at Children's Museum of the Arts

Photo by Will Ellis, Children's Museum of the Arts

Ana Marva Fernández is a Brooklyn-based Mexican-American artist whose installations include found objects, photographs, and rapid-prototype works which explore the implications of art in society as we move towards the future. Her work tends to reference the tensions found in Mexico's political landscape, intertwined with a playful use of mystical characters. A guest artist at the Met's 3D Hackathon in 2012, Ana has produced a variety of works using the Met's collection as a starting point for her vision.

Regularly featured in exhibitions and presentations around the world, Ana's work was most recently shown at Chicago's Center for Book and Paper Arts Gallery's Art2Make, where she exhibited a collection of 3D-printed sculptural work. Ana has taught guest classes for professionals and graduate students on integrating technology in art education, as well as art-education research at New York University and Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a Maker Corps member (part of the Maker Education Initiative) and will be teaching and guiding projects at several venues this summer, including the New York Hall of Science and the Brooklyn Museum.

Ana is also an educator at the Children's Museum of the Arts in Lower Manhattan. For the Museum's Mexican American Festival in November, she once again turned to the Met's collection to help children connect with their rich history. Easy 3D scanning and printing made it possible for her to develop a stop-motion filmmaking experience that was both accessible to all ages and closely tied to real historical artifacts.

I had a chance to chat with Ana about this event, and was interested in showcasing her processes and points of inspiration in a collaborative post for the Digital Underground audience.

From Ana:

The Mexican American Festival presented an opportunity to create a learning experience for kids on topics of Mexican culture. I wanted to steer away from clichés, and this project seemed like a great fit for the event. I was struck by these particular artifacts because I had the impression that they embodied some aspects of Mexican culture that are still true today—at least from my perspective—namely, a fervor for sports, dark humor, and musicality.

It is magical to extract ancient objects from behind museum glass and learn about them through play. I gave some facts about each object as each new young animator sat down (there was also information written next to each station), and the children usually became intrigued and continued to ask questions. The process and the history both sparked their curiosity. In some cases, learning about the context of the object definitely informed the choices the kids made in their animations. This is particularly obvious at the Seated Ballplayer station, because I explained some of the rules of the game before each child began their experience.

"Smiling" Figure. Mexico, 7th–8th century.One curious teenager looked further into the history of the "Smiling" Figure on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, and discovered a rather disturbing theory I chose not to include in the printed materials: that the dancers may have been sacrificial victims of dismemberment, resulting in an amusing animation where the dancers' arms fly off.

Left: "Smiling" Figure. Mexico, Mesoamerica, Veracruz, 7th–8th century. Ceramic; H. 18 11/16 x W. 11 3/4 x D. 6 1/4 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1211)

I talked to each group about how 3D printing and scanning work, where the scans were acquired, and where the objects originated. As the kids played with the various objects, many shared musings on what they thought the objects were used for, or recognized the names of places. For instance, "I am from Jalisco, too!" It was really rewarding to see families make cultural connections together during the workshop.

Stop-motion animation is a technique where movement is photographed in tiny increments, and a playback of the images creates the illusion of the objects moving on their own. I walked the children through the process before they started on their movies.

The program we used is called Dragon Stop Motion (Dragonframe), which was connected to a Canon SLR with a tripod above the set. The program provides an onion skin, or a shadow of the previous image, to help kids move things just a tiny bit every time they take a picture. The files were set up at fifteen frames per second. The computers, keypads (for taking pictures), tripods, and flat sets were arranged on big tables.

Seated Ballplayer. Mexico, 1st century BCE–3rd century CE.Right: Seated Ballplayer. Mexico, Mesoamerica, Jalisco, 1st century b.c.e.–3rd century c.e. Ceramic; H. 19 5/8 x W. 13 in. (49.8 x 33 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of The Andrall and Joanne Pearson Collection, 2005 (2005.91.1)

The station with the Seated Ballplayer had a multiplane: a piece of Plexiglas raised above the background image. The little loop for the ball field was stuck to the Plexiglas so kids could create the effect of the ball going through, by animating above, and then below, the plane. Up to four kids worked at each station at a time, taking turns moving the objects, making sure the frame was clear, and taking pictures.

For each day of the festival, the result was one long movie per station (of a few minutes), that was uploaded to CMA clips. Each kid (or group) who sat down usually worked for twenty to twenty-five minutes, resulting in a few seconds that were added to the forty- to fifty-second collaborative movie. It is a laborious undertaking to say the least.

This animation project is a reflection of my goals as an artist and educator. I am excited about the potential of digital-fabrication processes as teaching tools. From my experience, incorporating digital media makes teaching more inclusive and engaging. I aim to promote a maker mentality of creative experimentation, through which kids can take ownership of concepts by building their own learning tools.

Ana Marva Fernández. Ball Player, 2013. Stop-motion animation using Seated Ballplayer

Ana Marva Fernández. Arms and Hands, 2013. Stop-motion animation using "Smiling" Figure

Ana Marva Fernández. In a While . . ., 2013. Stop-motion animation using Crocodile Rattle

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