The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

What Could You Do with a One-Minute Story?

Emily Casriel, Head of Editorial Partnerships and special projects for BBC World Service Group, gives a detailed account of her project Take 10 animation in a blog post published a month ago.  

This project involves MA student animators from the Animation Department at the University of the West of England (UWE), who were given a great challenge: to animate 10 one-minute audio clips, inspired by 10 inspirational stories  from BBC World Service.

Here is how  

Student animators get creative with one minute World Service stories

Testimony of former child soldier Deng Adut, animated by Laura-Beth Cowley and Carwyn David.

Take the harrowing tale of being hauled in front of Islamic student activists in Iran, the search for an elusive bird in East Africa or the first-person experience of a child soldier. Hack each complex and rich story to precisely one minute. Now present those 60-second tales to a bunch of student animators and ask them to draw upon their wildest creative imagination to craft films that are so full of personality that they will engage people across the world. 

When I visited the Animation Department at the University of the West of England UWE to meet its MA students, I was presenting them with a demanding challenge. As I played the one-minute audio clips, drawn from a range of BBC World Service output, the animators listened intently with furrowed brows and occasional smiles.  

The students were already visualising how they could bring to life an attractive story while plotting how they could wriggle out of being assigned the toughest stories. Who would be tasked with imagining the story of a corrosive Soviet town and who would have fun bringing to life the wine-loving bear?

I first developed the partnership with the University of West of England (UWE) two years ago, when it was already clear that animating audio was an effective way to engage audiences which might not already be consuming BBC News content. Bethan Jinkinson from BBC World Service Digital was excited to collaborate on this project because of its potential to showcase and share the richness of our audio offer.

Research with the BBC’s Global Minds panel indicated that audiences liked snacking on content. The combination of factual content with a creative treatment seems to be attractive, perhaps because it engages both sides of our brain. Sharing something intelligent, yet still accessible, makes people look informed in front of their peers, which in turn drives viral success.

The search for a rare East African bird inspired animator Thomas Porras.

The BBC is increasingly experimenting with animated audio – from Omar’s Journey which depicts the journey of a teenage refugee in the Jungle in Calais based upon his own drawings, to The Today Programme animating the news. When I used to run the ideas discussion show The Forum I even experimented by personally animating its 60 second idea.  

I sought out UWE in Bristol as it is renowned for its creative flair and enjoys links to some of the most successful animation companies in the world, such as the local Aardman studios, home of Wallace and Gromit. Back in 2014, we collaborated with Chris Webster, the course leader, and his second year BA students to produce an animation based on a BBC World Service Outlook interview about Antarctica, saunas and naked running. Truly.

There were many exchanges over the tiniest of details from the texture of the sky (richer and more artistic) to permissible nudity (bottoms acceptable, full frontal not). I learned that the students needed to be encouraged to fly free of a too literal interpretation of the spoken word, while still keeping to the spirit of the message. This knowledge was useful when I briefed the graduate students this year for our more fully fledged partnership.   

My follow-up visit to the MA students was exciting if a little daunting for all of us. The students, who had been attracted to the course from across the world – from Vietnam to Venezuela – were now on the cusp of exposing their creative imagination to an external client for the very first time, awaiting judgement on the first ‘draft’ of their one-minute masterpieces.

From the moment the first film was shown on the screen, I could see that the MA students were in a different league to their BA counterparts. Yet I was a little confused by seeing a set of wooden films with little movement. The students patiently explained to me that the animatic wasn’t the finished film, merely a moving sketch book.

They had all put tremendous energy into researching the world behind their one minute clips.   Michail Gkialas Fikaris had watched numerous YouTube videos of his beatboxing subject (above) to understand not only the artist but also the beatboxing culture.

Linh Nguyen had drawn upon a Japanese vintage aesthetic to animate the story of a robot (above) which was born the moment its mother unwrapped the packaging. Not content with the audio narrative that I had presented to her, she had inserted an angry unicorn with a murderous laser beam as a visual sub plot. This burst of creativity led to a discussion about the importance of a visual narrative that would complement rather than compete with the audio. Linh’s finished animation sticks a little more faithfully to the audio clip, though it is still full of visual jokes reflecting her subversive originality.

I was also impressed with how Nagore Rementeria Muriel used stark black and white graphic images and negative space to create a tense atmosphere in her depiction of fear in revolutionary Iran (above). She built a 3D model of an Iranian man to rotate for the animation, and scribbled intimidating anonymous figures.  

Hannah Stevens had enlisted the help of her six year old cousin to imagine the two headed purple mutants of a fabled Soviet town, and then drew on World War Two propaganda films to create a cinematic atmosphere (above).  

And it was fantastic to see some stop motion animation in the mix with Sasha Lawrence’s story of the first legal inter-racial marriage in South Africa. Sasha took plywood and plaster to create a three tiered wedding cake (above) and found a 1980s Jet Magazine picture of the couple online to inspire her creation of the bride and groom puppets. 

At the end of our session together, tutor Chris Webster told his students that one of the most valuable lessons of this partnership was to understand the mindset of a client and the likelihood that they wouldn’t understand the animating process. He is committed to helping his students not only develop their own voice – all of the animations are highly individual – but also equip them with skills that will enable them to succeed in the world of deadlines and client demands. 

I am excited to share these jewels with our worldwide audience by publishing them on the BBC website, broadcasting them on BBC World News and seeing reactions as we share these films on a whole range of social media platforms. I hope that people around the world will appreciate the thought and inventiveness that has gone into these richly layered treats and feel tempted to find out more.       

The animations are available on the BBC News website, BBC World News and across social media. 

 

Filed under: 3►STYLE, 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ ANIMATE, ■ Animations, ■ Communicate, ■ Creativity, ■ How to Tell a Story, ■ Movies, ■ The Path of Metaphor, ■ Thinking Space, ►META PHORS▼

Recommended Brain Workout: Flex Your Multilingual “Muscles”

0:06
¿Hablas español? Parlez-vous français? 你会说中文吗?
0:12
If you answered, “sí,” “oui,” or “会” and you’re watching this in English,
0:18
chances are you belong to the world’s bilingual and multilingual majority.
0:23
And besides having an easier time traveling
0:25
or watching movies without subtitles,
0:27
knowing two or more languages means that your brain
0:29
may actually look and work differently than those of your monolingual friends.
0:34
So what does it really mean to know a language?
0:38
Language ability is typically measured in two active parts, speaking and writing,
0:43
and two passive parts, listening and reading.
0:46
While a balanced bilingual has near equal
0:49
abilities across the board in two languages,
0:52
most bilinguals around the world know and use their languages
0:55
in varying proportions.
0:57
And depending on their situation and how they acquired each language,
1:01
they can be classified into three general types.
1:04
For example, let’s take Gabriella,
1:07
whose family immigrates to the US from Peru when she’s two-years old.
1:12
As a compound bilingual,
1:13
Gabriella develops two linguistic codes simultaneously,
1:18
with a single set of concepts,
1:20
learning both English and Spanish
1:22
as she begins to process the world around her.
1:25
Her teenage brother, on the other hand, might be a coordinate bilingual,
1:29
working with two sets of concepts,
1:31
learning English in school,
1:33
while continuing to speak Spanish at home and with friends.
1:36
Finally, Gabriella’s parents are likely to be subordinate bilinguals
1:41
who learn a secondary language
1:43
by filtering it through their primary language.
1:46
Because all types of bilingual people can become fully proficient in a language
1:50
regardless of accent or pronunciation,
1:52
the difference may not be apparent to a casual observer.
1:55
But recent advances in brain imaging technology
1:58
have given neurolinguists a glimpse
2:00
into how specific aspects of language learning affect the bilingual brain.
2:05
It’s well known that the brain’s left hemisphere is more dominant
2:09
and analytical in logical processes,
2:11
while the right hemisphere is more active in emotional and social ones,
2:16
though this is a matter of degree, not an absolute split.
2:20
The fact that language involves both types of functions
2:22
while lateralization develops gradually with age,
2:25
has lead to the critical period hypothesis.
2:28
According to this theory,
2:30
children learn languages more easily
2:32
because the plasticity of their developing brains
2:35
lets them use both hemispheres in language acquisition,
2:38
while in most adults, language is lateralized to one hemisphere,
2:42
usually the left.
2:44
If this is true, learning a language in childhood
2:47
may give you a more holistic grasp of its social and emotional contexts.
2:52
Conversely, recent research showed
2:54
that people who learned a second language in adulthood
2:57
exhibit less emotional bias and a more rational approach
3:01
when confronting problems in the second language
3:03
than in their native one.
3:05
But regardless of when you acquire additional languages,
3:08
being multilingual gives your brain some remarkable advantages.
3:12
Some of these are even visible,
3:13
such as higher density of the grey matter
3:16
that contains most of your brain’s neurons and synapses,
3:19
and more activity in certain regions when engaging a second language.
3:23
The heightened workout a bilingual brain receives throughout its life
3:26
can also help delay the onset of diseases, like Alzheimer’s and dementia
3:31
by as much as five years.
3:33
The idea of major cognitive benefits to bilingualism
3:35
may seem intuitive now,
3:37
but it would have surprised earlier experts.
3:40
Before the 1960s, bilingualism was considered a handicap
3:44
that slowed a child’s development
3:45
by forcing them to spend too much energy distinguishing between languages,
3:50
a view based largely on flawed studies.
3:54
And while a more recent study did show
3:56
that reaction times and errors increase for some bilingual students
3:59
in cross-language tests,
4:01
it also showed that the effort and attention needed
4:03
to switch between languages triggered more activity in,
4:06
and potentially strengthened, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
4:11
This is the part of the brain that plays a large role
4:14
in executive function, problem solving, switching between tasks,
4:18
and focusing while filtering out irrelevant information.
4:22
So, while bilingualism may not necessarily make you smarter,
4:26
it does make your brain more healthy, complex and actively engaged,
4:30
and even if you didn’t have the good fortune
4:33
of learning a second language as a child,
4:35
it’s never too late to do yourself a favor
4:37
and make the linguistic leap from, “Hello,”
4:40
to, “Hola,” “Bonjour” or “你好’s”
4:43
because when it comes to our brains a little exercise can go a long way.

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 1►LISTEN▼, 1►TO DO, 2►READ, 3►SPEAK▼, 4►WRITE

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