As automation and robotics replace human labor, our education systems have to adapt. Collaborative and creative skills actually create more robust job security in this rapidly changing global economy. Instead of the ability to memorize and regurgitate information, lasting professional value derives from the capacity to generate new ideas and quickly adapt to new tools, personalities, and paradigms.
Clever Tech Digest sat down with Laura Bellmont, founder of The Little Animation Studio, to discuss the importance or art, play, and technology in children’s education. Her company brings professional filmmaking software and equipment to after school programs all over Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York. Making awesome animations may be students’ primary objective, but the school’s pedagogy focuses on using the filmmaking process as a vessel to study topics ranging from history, to biology, or even to space.
Read on to learn about Bellmont’s unique programming and her take on the next generation of education.
The Little Animation Studio brings professional-grade camera equipment, computers, and animation software into the classroom for children as young as three years old. What inspired you to use animation and technology as a tool for teaching?
I discovered stop-motion animation in my personal art- making practice in undergrad at Pratt Institute where I was in the illustration department. Later, when I was back at Pratt for grad school studying art education, I came back to stop-motion animation intending to use it as a teaching tool. Pratt’s art therapy department was very progressive, and I found a perfect space to explore those themes by teaching and using stop motion. It provides an exciting and interactive vehicle through which to impart important learning objectives like learning by doing, problem- solving and deductive reasoning, hand-making skills, technological understanding, and communication/ collaboration skills.
There are lots of new smart phone applications for animation and video making. Why do you think it is important for children to interact with professional tools?
Put very simply, using professional-grade tech and software gives students of all ages the feeling that they, too, can one day participate in the film and art world with clear directives and confidence. Technology is a huge part of our culture currently, and I believe it will continue to be more and more embedded in the professional landscape of the future. Students who are using these tools now not only elevate their own art-making practice from a young age but also see a pathway to participate in these worlds when they are of age. I am also hopeful that their future contributions to these industries will aid in revolutionizing them.
The Little Animation School works with a predominantly female team of teaching artists. How do you think this has shaped company culture and business growth?
We are very honored to work with some amazing educators, artists, and filmmakers, and, you are right; most of them are female. I believe that our teachers don’t just lead our students through a complex educational experience, but also how to try, fail OR succeed, and learn from it during their creative process. They also provide powerful examples of kind and collaborative people who care deeply about their students and the work they do together. We are also always hoping to empower young, female students to follow their dreams of making their own films professionally one day and hope to tip the balance in what has been a mostly-male industry. I believe that working with female animators and artists who are not only teaching in our classrooms, but are also actively working in the film and art world gives our students great examples of professionals that they can relate to and be inspired by.
What are the greatest challenges of working technology into very young students’ education?
Working with very young students and using technology in an educational capacity has been generally very positive. We are essentially teaching magic in the classroom, so we rarely have to try to get our students excited or push to motivate their creative output. We do occasionally find a challenge in negotiating with collaborative, production groups of students, but this is a key part of our teaching practice, so there are great gains from these conversations. Beyond our classrooms, I believe that the influx of technology in our daily lives socially and professionally poses some new challenges to do with maintaining a balance interacting with “the screen” and interacting with ourselves and each other “in real life.” It is my hope that we are able to impart to our students the ethical and conscious use of technology while keeping this precious balance.
What have been some of obstacles you have faced as a small business in Brooklyn, and how have you overcome them?
This is my first experience running a small business, so I’m not sure which challenges are Brooklyn-specific, but I can say that running a small business in NYC has been a huge gift. Working here has meant that our client base can be broad and diverse and that there are always new students with whom to collaborate in new ways. Perhaps, our greatest challenge has been trying to somehow rectify the fundamental difference between the high level of our offerings and the set budgets of our school’s clients. We send professional-grade equipment and software to our clients, which requires a schlep through the public transportation system, and we invent original curriculum for each new population without using a “plug-and-play” approach.
We also offer classes alongside other providers who teach chess or dance and require lower fees to cover costs. Our closest competitors in the stop-motion animation education field use much lighter and cheaper equipment such as iPads and iStopmotion. These tools essentially get the job done but don’t have the high visual quality and don’t enable students to interact with pro gear. We can, however, sleep well at night knowing that we are giving a gift to our students and our clients though we are not always paid enough for these efforts. Thankfully, due to a variety of offerings and a wide selection of clients, we are able to get by and supplement these areas where budgets don’t really cover all of our costs. Thank you NYC.
What technologies inspire you the most as an educator?
I have been fortunate to teach in a time when DragonFrame Stop Motion is the professional software of choice. It is super user-friendly while also comprehensive. We teach three-year-olds to use this software. Stop motion is an old filmmaking technique that has been revolutionized by modern software. I am inspired by the combination of this old-school method paired with some exciting Innovations like 3D printers and new apps that allow students to interact with many types of technology and the real world at the same time.
What question do you wish I had asked you?
These questions feel very comprehensive! Thanks for asking! I love talking and thinking about this work, and every time I articulate these thoughts, I feel a renewed excitement for this practice and why we do what we do.