Making a TED-Ed Lesson: Two ways to animate slam poetry

In this short video, we’re going to show you how we use two different animation techniques, both rotoscoping and traditional hand-drawn animation in the TED-Ed Lesson, “Miss Gayle’s 5 Steps to Slam Poetry: A Lesson of Transformation.” A poetry slam is a competition in which poets are judged on their poems, often for qualities of emotional power and lyrical resonance. Our Lesson was created by Gayle Danley, a veteran slam poet who spent decades teaching children to express themselves
through spoken words, a Lesson, which offers
a guide to creating poetry with immediacy and power, also serves as a great
example of exactly that. It’s a story told in the form of a poem that packs a real emotional punch. She introduces Tyler, who’s sitting in an 11th
grade writing class, struggling with the assignment
of having to write a poem based on a personal experience. The story is told from two perspectives, one external and one internal. Miss Gayle’s narration sets the stage of the outside world, and spoken word artist Pages D. Matan performs Tyler’s inner voice. To set these two realms of inner- and outer-experience apart, a different animation technique was used to illustrate each. The real world was animated
by rotoscoping, with a frame-by-frame tracing
of live-action footage in black and white line art. The animation depicting the inner-stream of consciousness world of Tyler’s memories was traditionally drawn on paper, featured watercolored backgrounds and a more expressionistic design. Once deciding on this general approach, the project went right
into pre-production. In animation, pre-production
is the planning stage. It’s all the decisions
that need to be made before going and actually making the thing in its final form. This can include developing the look or design of the piece, experimenting with colors
and camera angles, revising the script, and so on. All these decisions are important because they determine
how much work and time the production will take. Extra time spent here figuring things out can often save a lot
of time down the road. For our project, a storyboard
was first created, in which the framing,
composition, and imagery for each shot was determined. Then an animatic was made, which is basically a movie
of the storyboard. This helped us figure
out the timing of each shot. It also helped us get an idea of how well everything
would flow together visually between our rotoscoped and traditionally animated scenes once they were assembled. For the rotoscoped shots,
we first had to create the live action footage to be traced. Working with what we had
in our humble office, we created a classroom of desks using only one small table. We shot this multiple times from each angle the storyboard called for, each time with a different volunteer from among our co-workers. Our source footage elements then needed to be composited, or assembled and arranged together, before we could rotoscope them. A composite is a special effects term for a shot that combines
two or more elements in it that were created separately. To do this, we used After Effects, a digital compositing
and motion graphics program. The first step was to isolate the part of the frame we needed by masking off the unnecessary
negative space, or parts of the frame we didn’t need. The individual shots
were then each layered into one composite shot, resized and arranged appropriately to create the illusion of them all being there in perspective
at the same time. Every third frame was then exported as an image sequence, ready to be rotoscoped. The tracing was done digitally, drawn directly on a Cintiq monitor. The rest of the animation was done by hand on paper. Unlike rotoscoping, here the timing and motion
of the animation was all planned out by the animator
ahead of time. An appropriate number
of drawings were then done to accomplish the movement. Each animation drawing is then scanned, registered, and sequenced together in the computer. That animation sequence is then composited with the layered background art. Camera moves are then
plotted out and executed. One way that poetry uses language to communicate emotions and ideas is through the use of metaphor. “Mama’s lies are footsteps
too many to count making excuses on black snow.” Animation’s a medium that’s also
uniquely well-suited to communicating emotions and ideas through visual metaphor. Applying the dual techniques of rotoscoped and traditional animation, each with their own inherent looks, allowed us to visually represent the dual nature of the creative process described in the Lesson. There’s the internal aspect
of experience and memory, which is mined for inspiration, and there’s the external aspect of revealing it to the world through a structured presentation. We combined both techniques
for the last shots of Tyler delivering his poem to the world, allowing us to convey
in a direct, visual way the power of that moment of communication when internal becomes external, which, in both poetry and animation, is where the magic happens.

14 thoughts on “Making a TED-Ed Lesson: Two ways to animate slam poetry

  1. For someone like me, who has little to no animation experience, this was most interesting. Thanks!

  2. As a writer myself, the animation, video editing and on paper, are strong mediums of expression and prose. This video has inspired my creativity to experiment with more preproduction planning in other aspects of my work says. Thank you so much Ted and please upload both versions separately to allow discussion. Slam poetry is very cool and a heartwarming journey we all can understand by simply opening our ears and shutting our lips into somebody's shoes and emotions. This is life. This is me.

  3. When you make these making of videos could you please put a link to the original video in the description?

  4. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful comment, MrPyerz. Means a lot. You can find a link to the original lesson on slam poetry in the details.

  5. These making of videos are so inspirational. I just discovered this channel's treasure trove of cool animation recently so its good to also see the process. Love it! Love animation!

  6. in this way you can only write robotic poems…
    poetry is not a bed of roses..

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