Ross Wallis, Creative Arts Faculty Head,
Sidcot Secondary School, UK

My name is Ross Wallis, I teach art in a secondary school and I dabble with digital media.  Digital cameras, digital video, web galleries and virtual realities, image manipulation and interactive gaming. Powerful new media that personal computing has been enabling. As a teacher of creativity I feel that I need to be in there learning and exploring, encouraging the students who have grown up with computers to use them in an active and creative way rather than being passive consumers. There is real energy created by the use of digital tools, students come to my lessons eager to be let loose on the technology, to show me the images and movies that they have been creating on their mobile phones, take me to the websites that they have created, they even come to my lessons prepared with ideas and props.

I hasten to add that this has little to do with my teaching skills or my charisma, defiantly not my organisational skills, but simply the power of the digital camera and computer software to excite. Students love seeing themselves on the screen, they have fun working in groups, enjoying the medium in a fresh way, the power to edit and manipulate the captured images on a computer.  I also firmly believe that students can be doing a great deal of learning though group work, though experimentation, and despite the fact that they seem to be really enjoying the experience.

I have very recently added CrazyTalk to my catalogue of software and started to play with it alongside some of my students. What an amazing bit of software. It is really simple to use, even with very young students, it taps into the fascination of seeing oneself on screen, and has bags of creative potential.

We recently had some big screens put up around school on which staff can display messages, match reports, rehearsal reminders and the like, and we hatched a plan to use a photo of the headmaster, get him to record a message or two, and get this up on the screen in place of the scrolling text. We haven't been brave enough to do it yet, but we laughed at the possibility. Students and teacher plotting together.

I was playing with lip sync last year, getting students to scan drawings of themselves and bringing them to life, getting the drawings to talk. I bought a professional animation tool specifically designed for lip syncing, but it proved much too complex, I wish I had stumbled upon CrazyTalk a little sooner, I would have saved myself a lot of time.

I have just repeated the project with a current group, getting them to draw self portraits, then recording them talking about themselves, what they like about art, what they feel about their drawings. The self portraits were then scanned and transformed in CrazyTalk so that they came to life. This was all done as part of an extended project on portraiture. A really fun addition to the project. Possibilities of animated web based portfolios spring to mind. As an extension to a drawing project, the use of CrazyTalk made the students really think about the work that they had done. We used the animated drawings as an evaluation tool for the work that the students has done. A really fun way to do the evaluation of a drawing session rather than the often rather dull and dry evaluations tagged on to the end of a project as a final homework session.

I have also been experimenting recently with ideas for online portfolios, the possibilities of students creating web sites or blogs which present the work that they have been doing in the art room. This is a great way for students to reflect on the work that they have done, to assess their own progress, and to present their work as a coherent whole. Adding animations created in CrazyTalk would be a powerful and lively addition to these online journals.

My art teachers mind went into overdrive - why not have Rembrandt himself talk to the group about his work, rather than me, or Vincent Van Gogh telling us about his life at the time he was painting a particular self portrait. I have been experimenting with pod casting, specifically in relation to gallery trips, where I have researched some of the works in the gallery in advance and created a podcast for students to download. They have then used this a as a personalised gallery guide as they have gone around. But I have also used an iPod with a microphone attached to record the students thoughts and ideas about the works as they are in front of them. Using the technology in this way really makes the students think about the works. The iPod is sort of 'their' technology, recording their voices makes them really think, adds a new dimension to a gallery visit. Although I haven't done this as yet, as I have only just made a start with CrazyTalk, I can see that the same would be true. To put words into the mouth of Rembrandt or Van Gogh would challenge the students to really think about what these artists would say, what they would be thinking of themselves and their work. CrazyTalk could add a whole new dimension
to research on the life and work of artists, and make this sort of project very memorable.

Another project that I did last year, this one with younger students, was a digital camera based project that I called inanimates. Students had to find faces in inanimate objects, cars, trees, the leftovers on a plate. Humankind's ability to turn random objects into faces is extraordinary. One of my ideas with this project was simply to get students to really look. But I tell you it is dangerous - it becomes addictive! Whole stories can stem from gazing at cloud formations. There are faces looking out at me from all over the place now. It is difficult to wash my hands without wondering what the sink is thinking.

We took the images and created cartoon strips from them in another magic bit of software, plasq's 'Comic Life'. But again I wish that I had discovered CrazyTalk at the time.

I have just revisited these images and animated them in CrazyTalk, getting the sink to talk, the handbags to have a conversation. A little along the same lines as Aardman's Creature Comforts. A simple but very powerful idea. And we laughed out loud!

A lot of my philosophy and attitude towards the use of computer technology in the Art room is that it enables students who might otherwise not engage to do so. I noticed right back at the start, in the days of a hard drive less Amiga with one megabyte ram that some of my difficult students, not to generalise, but boys who found concentration difficult, who could not really be bothered, who didn't what to commit themselves on paper because they did not want to show themselves up: "I can't paint, I can't draw" but they would spend hours in front of the Amiga, with real concentration. The tube sucked them in. And out came some wonderful work that they could be rightly proud of, and I could praise. I see CrazyTalk as an application with similar potential. It is so easy to use, very little learning to be done, and great results very quickly. It is also great fun to use, but through this can come some very serious teaching. If we can capture students imagination, if they can be having fun, if they are willing to engage because of these tools, then they will also be learning in a powerful way.

Where CrazyTalk ends iClone begins, with students getting more deeply into the possibilities of three dimensional modelling. I can see a great deal of potential in this both CrazyTalk and iClone as very powerful additions to the software that I use in the artroom.