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▼

The Golden Rules of Telling a Great Story

by Andrew Stanton

How to Tell a Story

Filmmaker Andrew Stanton  is the writer behind the three “Toy Story” movies, the writer/director of “WALL-E,” and “John Carter.” In the video below he shares what he knows about storytelling — starting at the end and working back to the beginning.

Warning: this video contains graphic language…

Filed under: 3►SPEAK▼, ■ How to Tell a Story, ■ Movies, ►META PHORS▼

Brain Plasticity and Empathy, Dealing With “The Impossible” and Other Thoughts

Imagine  A number of documentaries I watched recently on BBC Knowledge and Discovery have led me to an interesting net-surfing experience, in search of more info on two topics that I, among many others, find absolutely fascinating: the plasticity of the human brain – its causes and effects, as well as its connections with feelings like empathy. Listed below you will find some interesting links and quotes I came across during my search. Feel free to add to it any other sources/ links you consider of relevance.

1.  You can watch a short video on the BBC Virtual Revolution Blog from 2009, in which Baroness Susan Greenfield approaches the question: Is the web changing us? The transcript is available on the site. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the most important issues I think, as well as the good thing about IQ going up, is the issue of risk. Obama said that the current financial crisis is attributable in part to greed and recklessness. Now greed are recklessness occur as part of something called a frontal syndrome, when the frontal part of the brain is less active in various conditions.
Could it be – and also this frontal part of the brain only comes on stream in late teenage years – could it be, given the brain is so obliging in the way it adapts, that if you’re putting it in a situation where you are living for the moment in a rather infant-like way with lots of sensory experiences, that that could be being changed? And I think that’s one of the things that would be very interesting to look at.
My final issue is identity, and it does stun me, Twitter for example, where the banality of some of the things that people feel they need to transmit to other human beings. Now what does this say about how you see yourself? Does this say anything about how secure you feel about yourself? Is it not marginally reminiscent of a small child saying “Look at me, look at me mummy! Now I’ve put my sock on. Now I’ve got my other sock on,” you know? And I’m just being neutral here, I’m just asking questions, right… What does this say about you as a person?

2. On Top Documentary Films you can read about and watch for free brilliant documentaries. Take another great series by the same insightful Susan Greenfield, called Brain Story.

The greatest numbers of documentaries on this site belong to the categories of Science (350) and Society (304). However, these are only 2 of the 25 categories you can browse, so plenty of resources to delve into.

3.  On the topic of visual illusions, I think it is safe to presume that we all prefer and appreciate watching well-produced special effects in pretty much any kind of movie. The quality of the special effects in a science fiction movie is, for instance, what makes the difference between an A and a B movie  for meHollywood award ceremonies never fail to highlight the best special effects in movies on a regular basis. This being said, I was surprised to find out that Harvard University also has an awarding ceremony called: “The Best Illusion of the Year Contest”! 🙂

Here‘s the winning illusion for 2011. The effect is called  “silencing by motion” and its source is Professor Michael Bach’s “Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena”.  

Click this link to visit Professor Bach’s site and get access to 101 such illusions and phenomena. 

4. The link up next leads to a 2012 scientific research study from the biannual journal Essays in Philosophy  whose intriguing title instantly caught my eye: “On Being Stereoblind in an Era of 3D Movies”, by Cynthia Freeland. Put on a scientist’s hat, or any other kind that is comfortable and feel free to investigate its content.

5.  Can we adapt to unimaginable situations? How does our brain deal with catastrophes beyond our worst nightmares? The Impossible - UK Poster Such questions are the subject of a movie that reached the Polish cinemas this month and that I warmly recommend, called The Impossible (2102).

You can read about the real story that inspired the movie in this article from The Mirror: “Seemingly impossible: Miracle survival of family who inspired new tsunami movie”.

Last but not least on today’s list, the following article from the Health section of the Times investigating “How Disasters and Trauma Can Affect Children’s Empathy” can be placed in the same category of the effects that surviving catastrophes can have on the human brain and the human behaviour – in this particular case, on kids aged 6, 9, and 12. I selected below some of the findings of the studies discussed in the article. 

“There are developmental differences in empathy,[…] and younger children may not be able to regulate their emotions as well as older ones because the prefrontal regions in the brain responsible for such control are less mature. Faced with extreme stress, their self-regulation capacities regress even further. “Adverse events appear to cause six-year-olds to revert back to selfish ways typical of early childhood,” the authors write. Even in situations with less tragic consequences, but which are nonetheless stressful, such as living through a divorce, or getting lost in a public place, many children may resort to more immature tendencies.

By age nine, however, most youngsters have mature enough brains to not only recognize the feelings of others, but to try to mitigate bad ones. Their increased altruism during distress reflects what has been seen in many disasters, from man-made ones such as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., to natural catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy. […]

While the results support the intuitive sense that the personal experience of pain can increase compassion, there are cases when it can have the opposite effect. Indeed, research shows that if suffering occurs too early in life, when young brains are not equipped to process the experience, or if the pain is too overwhelming, it can make people less sensitive and more focused on self-preservation, such as often occurs in cases of child abuse and neglect. “Painful experiences may increase empathy and care, provided that one can regulate one’s own emotion,” Decety says. The findings suggest that our social and biological structures may be biased toward cooperation and empathy for others: “Without caring for others, we would not survive as a species,” he says.

It would be interesting to compare the findings of this article with the development of Lucas, one of the heroes in The Impossible, who is only 10, in the face of the sixth deadliest natural disaster in recorded history, the 2004 tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean, affecting Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and the Maldives and killing nearly 300 000 people. The earthquake which caused the tsunami was the 3rd largest in recorded history measuring a magnitude of 9.19.3

Compared to being caught right in the middle of it,  it is much easier to make sense of “the impossible” from a desk in the living-room or from a cinema seat, which is why I wish you all safe trips to the cinema :),  tsunami-free vacations and peaceful school experiences, no guns involved… 

May you be safe, show empathy, and, regardless of situation, always navigate through unpredictable changes with fresh new breaths of faith!

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 9►EXTRA, ■ BBC: The Virtual Revolution Blog, ■ Books, ■ Brain Plasticity, ■ China, ■ Empathy, ■ Movies, ■ News, ■ The Mirror, ■ TIME, ■ TOP Documentary Films

On Erasmus in Barcelona

The essay below was written especially for the ELB readers by Nina Romanska, one of my former students. I would like to thank her very much for her insights and I would like to wish her “Happy Birthday!!!”, as she is celebrating her birthday on this very day. 🙂 🙂 😉 🙂 🙂 

The Erasmus Experience

in

Barcelona. 

A Student’s Account

Erasmus is a popular student exchange programme nowadays. As many other students, I decided to take part in it because I had studied abroad before and I knew that it would be an amazing experience. I love Spanish, so Spain was an obvious choice for me. I didn’t have any doubts about the city either, I knew that Barcelona would be a perfect place for me. It’s a big city, the capital of Catalunya, definitely one of the most interesting places in Spain. I had never been there before, but I simply trusted my intuition, the view of the city from “The Shadow of the Wind” written by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and “L’Auberge Espagnole,” known as the “Erasmus movie,” which describes the Erasmus experience of a French student in Barcelona.

However, my beginnings in that beautiful city were like from some comedy-drama. I remember my first day there. I arrived in Barcelona at about 2 o’ clock at night, tired after the bus ride from the airport in Reus. It was really hot, but I was wearing the coat and pullover that I didn’t have place for in my luggage. I took the metro to a district nearby the Sagrada Familia, where my friend was living. The escalators were out of order, and I could’t find any elevator either, so, with no Spanish prince on a white horse to come to my rescue, I had to carry my suitcase and my backpack all the way… Finally, I saw the Sagrada Familia. I stopped for a while to admire it and then went to look for the direction of my friend’s place. I was really impressed with the church at first sight, but the truth is that I was more concerned with being robbed at the time, as I was carrying all my jewellery, and had the money to rent a room on me.

Next day I woke up at 6 and started to look for a room to rent. The experience was totally horrible. Even if, on the outside, the old buildings in Barcelona are very beautiful, inside I came across dirty rooms and flats, strange people of all ages (renting is really expensive there, so not only students share flats), old guys with propositions, loads of insects, lack of sunshine, funny smells. All of these at an incredibly expensive price. Until I found a suitable flat I decided to share a room with another Polish student. She lived with the owner of the flat, a guy from Morocco who was walking half naked in flat, wearing just pants and a DJ cap, so I felt like I needed to hide myself. He worked as a bodyguard in club, so I could go back to the flat after 11pm, when he went to work.

After six days of looking for a flat from 8 am to 11pm, I found my room and started my true Erasmus life. My new flat mates were three Erasmus students from Romania, Finland and Germany. My room was really small and without any windows, but somehow I got used to it. 😉

Once I got time more time on my hands to explore, I realised that Barcelona is a really great city. There are a lot of really interesting places to see. Thanks to Gaudi (the Catalan Modernist), no other city can be compared to Barcelona. This Catalan architect gave Barcelona a really beautiful gift: an originality and style that made me feel that buildings of his project were taken out of some kind of fairytale kingdom.  Barcelona has everything; we can lose ourselves in the narrow streets of the Barrio Gothic and Raval, admire the elegant buildings of Gracia, walk on the beach or go to a match of FC Barcelona at Camp Nou.

There are, however, some bad points of living in the city. Loads of turists… almost everywhere you look, and this results in high prices and robberies. Barcelona is a really cosmopolitan city, so I felt more Spain in Madrid or Sevilla.

Somehow, Catalan wasn’t a big problem for me. It’s something between Spanish and French, so I had no trouble understanding most of it.

Even though I really loved Barcelona as a city and my newly-found home, the best part of my exchange program there were the people. I met a lot of great people from all over the world. The community of international students became my family, which is something that I really miss right now. Meeting people of different cultures, religions, beliefs and from different continents is a beautiful experience and made me more open-minded. Poland is a country of one nation, one religion, so my friendships with other Erasmus students helped me realise that many stereotypes about particular nations and countries were totally wrong.

As a nation, the Spanish are really cheerful compared to the Polish. They don’t care so much about exams, money, or the perfect look. I would like to follow that joy and optimism in my life.

I studied at the Faculty of Law of the University of Barcelona. The lectures were quite interesting. They gave the students interested in international law a wide range of study opportunities. 

 I also took part in the special programme ‘Introduction to Spanish Law,’ which was organised for international students. The teachers were friendly and much less formal than in Poland. Half of the available courses were in Spanish, and the other half in Catalan.

I would recommend taking part in an Erasmus programme to any student out there. It’s a great adventure, one impossible to forget! 😉  

Filed under: ■ Erasmus, ■ Good Old Student Life, ■ Movies, ■ Nationalities and Stereotypes, ■ Spain, ■ The World, ►12.OFF THE MAP▼

ROOM FOR ALL

What


do foreigners think about Poland

and

how do they feel about living in

Poland?

More info on Polandia online.

To watch one of the answers given by foreigners living in Poland click the link below:

http://wp.tv/mc707054

Filed under: ■ EU, ■ Movies, ■ Nationalities and Stereotypes, ■ Poland, ■ Polandia, ■ Races, ■ The World

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