Doing claymation for free is hard

Today I wrapped up another claymation unit. Like all the ones I have tried before there were glitches, but so far none that made me want to scream. So I think I might be on to a good thing and thought I would share. My history with claymation goes something like this.

First attempt. I scoured the internet for good free software that I could hook up to a webcam.  I was excited to discover Stop Motion Animator, but when I tried to install it on our networked computers it turned out our school student accounts didn’t have enough permissions for the program to work properly. So I went back to the drawing board.

Second attempt. I then came across SAM animation, which was being developed by Tufts University. I thought I was onto a good thing. They were developing a teaching resource wiki to go with it and the interface looked great. Everything worked well until the student projects started to get quite large and then the glitches began. The students learned a lot about trouble shooting software bugs, saving often and going with a plan B, but at the end of the day there was also a lot of frustration. I realise in hindsight that at the time SAM animation was still very much in it’s beta stage and I am sure that the current version is much superior (but now you have to pay for it). If you are interested in the whole story I wrote a blog post about it.

Third attempt. In desperation I tried Monkey Jam. I had originally discounted Monkey Jam as being too tricky for the students to work with, but in actual fact it worked alright. One of the things I liked about MJ was that it exported the student animations in a file format that was compatible with MS Movie Maker. I considered this to be important as I wanted them to include sounds and scene transitions in their movies. In the end, however, MJ was still tricky for many students. Like many of these programs it worked alright until you tried to make any changes to your still images. In MJ it was really easy for students to accidentally film over previous images and make a real hash of their order.

Fourth (and final?) attempt. So this year I decided to try something else. I had known about Jelly Cam last year but was put off by the fact that it only exported in .flv format, which MS Movie Maker does not like. This year I came across a post on the excellent free technology 4 teachers blog explaining that the newest version of Jelly Cam now included the option of uploading a sound file, so I decided to give it a go. Things went well for two classes. I almost starting thinking I was going to have a glitch free unit. The problems began at the usual point of the unit, when the students try to open up a file they are working on and either keep working on it or rearrange some of the images. For some reason Jelly Cam wouldn’t save their work properly and when they reopened it the next class they were back to square one.

“No Problem” I thought “You Tube now has a video editor. I’ll just have them export each of their scenes as a .flv file and then we will upload their sound track to You Tube.” So this morning I confidently tried this with the scenes from the first group to finish, only to discover you can only add sound files that are in the You Tube library. I still wasn’t phased because my plan C was to do the editing in Adobe Premiere on my laptop, but as it turned out Adobe Premiere does not like .flv files. I was starting to sweat a little at this point, but thought it was worth going back to free tech 4 teachers in case there was an online editor I could use. And I found We Video (which is really the reason I decided to write this blog post).

All the things I like about We Video. First of all it likes .flv files (phew). Second it has a Google Chrome App that synchs with Google Drive, so it takes only seconds to get it up and running. Third, the interface is simple but effective and has all the tools you need to do simple video editing tasks. Fourth, it exports to both You Tube and Vimeo. Fifth, it works. No glitches that I could find.

So with the help of We Video I managed to stitch together my student’s exported scenes, synch up their audio and export the finished product to You Tube in a matter of minutes. I was impressed and plan to look into incorporating We Video into more of my classes.

Here are some of the final products (note: the unit’s guiding question was about the effects of computer use on health):


  1. Claire Thompson

    Thanks for this Phil! I am new to editing video and was surprised at how challenging it can be especially if you are using PCs, which is what my school has. I’m keen to see how well We Video works with MP4 format–will try it out later today 🙂 By the way, I love the demo video at the Jelly Cam site; it did a great job of showing how simple it can be to put together a stop motion animation and I love that he kept the banana bit on his forehead right up to the end!

  2. Paul Klintworth

    JellyCam worked well for me last year, but like Phil I did encounter some issues with file handling, especially when exporting. Unfortunately out Tech Club hasn’t really produced anything this term, really just playing with it (latest version tho’). Like Claire, I found the demo video was good at inspiring our students last year. Thanks, Phil – now to try We Video!! 🙂

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