Community education using 3d animated films
Improving communication using 3d animation
Health Manager, community manager & MA student, Fraser Canyon, British Columbia, Canada
Jamie Billingham isn’t your stereotpyical machinimator. At 50, she has two grown daughters and seven granddaughters, and works full time as a Health Manager for a group of four First Nations in the Fraser Canyon in British Columbia, Canada. She’s also a part time community manager for Thoughtstream, a small start up that has created a community engagement platform used in over a third of the school districts in BC and Alberta. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also a full time Masters student pursuing an Interdisciplinary stream that includes leadership, learning and technology.
As part of her MA, she is conducting a participatory action research project on community engagement sponsored by Thoughtstream and a local school district. “One of the premises my project is built on is that there is huge competition for attention,” Jamie explains. “School districts and the education sector overall are competing with local, provincial, and federal government, businesses, TV, internet… the list goes on. In order for school districts to get the attention of community members, especially parents, they need to compete “as if” they were marketing something. What they are marketing is the future health and wellness of their children and society as a whole. Education, public education especially, affects every aspect of our lives; from economics to health to our ability to innovate. School district leadership “get” that. Most community members don’t think about it that much and because they don’t think about it they don’t, at a high enough rate, engage with school districts. That has to change. As Margaret Wheatley says, ‘The simple fact is that we can’t design anything that works without the involvement of all those it affects.'”
Jamie decided to try using Moviestorm to see how much video would affect the way people respond to messages. “Most of us have grown up watching moving pictures with sound; TV, films, video and more recently YouTube and TED. In addition there is a whole generation that has grown up gaming, becoming familiar and then expecting great video graphics. So the first part is familiarity, no learning curve, nothing to adapt to. And don’t underestimate novelty. We humans love novelty as long as it’s not too far apart from what is familiar. We like safe novelty. When it comes to a school district engaging constituents the norm is a flyer, newsletter or invitation to a face-to-face community consultation. Video is not expected, making it novel in that context, yet it is not so far from what is familiar to be seen as threatening or inappropriate.”
One concern was whether animations would be perceived differently to live action video. This has so far turned out not to be a problem. “The overall advantage of animation is that it is inherently more engaging. Even a talking head animation is more interesting, due to novelty, than a real talking head. When we move into anything more complex than a talking head type video then the advantages begin to grow exponentially. Sets, costumes, number of actors, and special effects are simply not something I can afford financially nor do I have the capacity to organize. Really, it would be completely beyond my abilities to even get a watchable five minutes that included multiple visual perspectives or any kind of dynamics. With animation (almost) anything is possible. The only time used is my time. All the equipment is in one place, my computer. I can shoot, reshoot, edit, do over, change sets and costumers and actors at will. Even the weather is not a consideration, because I can even control that in an animation.” Jamie laughs. “Maybe I have a God complex!”
The decision to use animation wasn’t completely clear-cut. “The disadvantages with animation are the extra steps in production and the learning curve. I can turn on my web cam, click record and upload the results to YouTube without any real need to learn anything difficult. The results would be video. Not particularly engaging video but it’s still a video.”
However, Jamie notes an interesting side-effect of using animation instead of video. “I can mitigate the bias that my particular real life talking head may cause. Bias happens. Positive bias increases engagement. Negative bias reduces it. Knowing that I can, using animation, control bias direction, at least to an extent. The best example I can think of is the Apple Mac vs. PC ads. I can’t afford to hire someone who looks, speaks, stands like the Mac guy. I can however, approximate that with Moviestorm. Animation levels the playing field of bias.”
Jamie opted to use Moviestorm after dabbling with a wide range of animation tools. “I have absolutely no formal film training,” she says, “but I have experimented with most of the media and transmedia applications available though. When I was first experimenting, a year or more ago, I connected with someone on Twitter who was in some way involved with a really cool Moviestorm for Oracle, David Christopher. He was great and shared a bunch of practical tips around storyboarding and scripting. I really like the esthetic possibilities of Moviestorm. I fell in love with Sims when they first came out and have experimented with some of the alternative animation applications. Moviestorm just has the look and feel I want. It also has the flexibility I need to really get creative. I especially like that I can embed a video clip into a Moviestorm shot and use my own voice in conjunction with text as subtitles.
She is looking forward to seeing the results of her project in a few months. “I hope they love it!” she says, cheerily. “I hope it engages them enough that they will not only watch (that’s the first step) but also respond to the questions I’ll be asking them. Engagement is a process that starts with getting people to pay attention.”
Jamie sees many other ways to use Moviestorm outside her own project. “I see this as having great potential in multiple sectors: education, business, or politics – imagine using it to educate constituents about issues. Really any area that you need to share complex information.” We look forward to hearing more from Jamie later in the year.
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