Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Shakespearean focus in moviemaking

I had to hold back tears today from laughing in my 7th grade history class! My students have been experimenting with an online text-to-speech movie making program called xtranormal. This is a gem of a little program - and it's real genius lies in its simplicity.

Xtranormal has some limitations, which are precisely what make it so great. Here are the main points of xtranormal;
1. You can only make a movie with two characters.
2. You can select only from a limited number of "sets" and your movie must take place in just one.
3. Because you type your script, and it is later converted to speech, you must spell everything correctly and not use slang, or the characters just spew gibberish.
4. There are several basic animations and expressions you can use, but there are many actions you cannot incorporate, like running or "big" action - it's mostly talking and small gestures and expressions.

What's so great about all these limitations? They lend themselves to a production that is very Shakespearean in nature. Big action and death must take place off stage - the dialogue has to accomplish the effect. It's limitations force a focus of subject and dialogue - you can't jump from scene to scene, and you can't have a bunch of characters crowding up and confusing the storyline. The limitation of scenes make for a very metaphorical (thus Shakespearean) interpretation of roles or scenarios that are being enacted.

End result? PERFECT for students!

My 7th grade history students have been studying about the cultures of the Ancient Americas - specifically the Aztecs and the Mayans.

After we had done some brainstorming, we came up with some specific scenarios that could have happened historically within those particular cultures. In order to act out these scenarios, students would have to incorporate some specific information they have learned during our studies, and also "get into the heads" of people back in history.

The students then took a scenario and, using xtranormal, wrote a short screenplay in one act in which that scenario was acted out.

I wasn't laughing because they were all so humorous, although some really were. I was mostly just over the top at the range of creative ideas these kids had made into a reality using this technology. Xtranormal is very simple - no student had difficulties with it technically. And although I anticipated students having trouble with the idea of taking the scenario and making it into a worthwhile enactment, there was no problem there either.

As of this afternoon, only two of my 7th graders had embedded these in their blogs, but during the next couple of days the rest will (all of a sudden they have become perfectionists!). Just go to my class blog, and the student blogs are on the right side of the page (for 7th grade just scroll down a little).

Xtranormal is truly a tool for the treasurebox - sooo many possibilities! I will pull this winner out again and again!

1 comment: