Small Scale Animation with Cardboard

As part of the Infinite Versatility of Cardboard last week, we made new cardboard pieces on the laser cutter to use with our stop motion animation stations. We found the animated shorts that resulted so surprisingly delightful that we’ve continued to offer these cardboard pieces at the animation station a week running!


Some of the new cardboard pieces are abstract shapes, not much different than what we usually offer in wooden shapes. We also cut out silhouette objects, including planets, houses, and trees.

The most complex pieces came from previous tinkerings by our friend, Tim Hunkin. I laser cut Tim’s sketches that he has drawn to make jointed forms (humans and dogs), and I attached all the limbs together with extra tiny brads.


We’ve noticed people staying for more extended times at the animation station and creating rich narratives with these new cardboard pieces.

The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard

The increased engagement hasn’t only come from having jointed figures or identifiable objects. I've been surprised to see the abstract shapes used in more imaginative ways than normal as well.

'Creation' and 'the ascent of Christ' on animation station

Since the cardboard I used was fairly thin, I had expected that the pieces would be too worn out at the end of the day of Infinite Versatility for continued use, but most pieces held up well enough that we’ve kept these at the stations instead of the usual wooden shapes. Each day, we quickly comb through the cardboard and remove anything that appears to have past its expiration. I also laser cut some replacements to add back to the stock so we can continue to offer these cardboard pieces at least a bit longer.


Large Scale Stop Motion Animation with Cardboard

We revisited large scale stop motion animation yesterday as part of our Infinite Versatility of Cardboard celebration. We used a plain cardboard backdrop and simple painted cardboard props to tell short stories. Here's a small sampling of some of the animations made during the event!

The Creation of the World

Titanic 2

The Boat, The Sister, and Ichorus


Super Girl vs. Fire Man

To see the full set of animations and other photos from the event, click here.


Our Latest MOOC - Motion & Mechanisms

Tinkering Fundamentals: Motion & Mechanisms

We're about to launch a new online Professional Development experiment! This new MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is called Tinkering Fundamentals: Motion & Mechanisms. Its free to participate at Coursera. This is the second course we've produced and this time we've partnered with the Research + Practice Collaboratory and Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, CA to bring you a five-week course built around three of our favorite motion-based activities: Marble Machines, Automata and Chain Reactions. The Collaboratory, led by Bronwyn Bevan at the University of Washington, conducted the field research and co-led, with Lighthouse, monthly meetings with after school teachers and Tinkering Studio staff to look together at the data we were collecting and our goals for student learning. The results are documented in a tool we’ll share in Week 5 called the Learning Dimensions Framework.

Our goal for the course is to introduce tinkering activities, but also go deeper into the pedagogical ideas behind them. We'll share our approach to designing activities, practicing facilitation, and setting up environments conducive to learning about science and art through tinkering. We'll be actively participating in the course along with you in the discussion forums and even offering impromptu hangouts from time to time.

We're thrilled to be able to introduce you to some of our intellectual, scientific, and artistic heroes; including Eleanor Duckworth and Hubert Dyasi. You'll get to hear from artists and scientists working directly with these ideas; folks like Arthur Ganson, Bernie Zubrowksi, and Carlos Zapata. And we'll hear reflections from our teacher collaborators who shared these activities in their after school programs. We've produced a collection of 19 short videos detailing the way we go about designing activities, from guiding principles to the “nuts and bolts”; we also developed detailed guides to go along with each of the activities, and some of our favorite readings.

We can't wait to begin and hope you'll join us!
Registration is open now.

Overdeck Family Foundation

This project was funded by generous support from Overdeck Family Foundation and the National Science Foundation.



Meandering between inspiration, research, and making

Every once in a while I get into a particularly fulfilling path of exploration around a topic, one where the flow from inspiration to experimenting and back to researching feels effortless and natural. Last week got us into an interesting excursion around light projections. It started with a video artist in residence Becca Rose shared with me.

Loi Fuller, a dancer and pioneer of stage lighting techniques used special lighting equipment with gels to make her clothes appear to change color during her performances in the late eighteen hundreds. In this recreation of her original dance the effect of colored lights on her white clothes can be seen. In the original black and white film by the Luminer brothers of her dancing the color was actually added later on (the original video can be found here: https://youtu.be/bA-jbsqFXJA


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Inspired by the idea of using clothes as a projection surface, I decided to bring the white clothes I could find to work the next day to try and turn my body into a projection surface. My colleagues helped improvise a sarong from a piece of white plastic foil to complete the costume.

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Deanna and I had a great time playing, experimenting and taking photos, sometimes hiding in the paper forest of Becca's installation, sometimes trying to catch a particularly beautiful part of the video footage Becca projected.

After I shared our exploration via Twitter, a friend and collaborator pointed out that our own Exploratorium explainers had experimented with the idea of the body as a projection surface years ago, even adding reflective material to the mix.

I don't have any concrete plans to take this exploration further, but I feel the satisfaction of understanding light projections in yet another way and having added more techniques for tinkering with light and shadows to my repertoire.


Light Play at Lighthouse

Digital Light Play Lighthouse

For our last visit of the semester (and our last day teaching in after school at Lighthouse), Lianna and I brought an activity called light play. Light play is a legacy activity in the Tinkering Studio and has seen many different incarnations over the years. Learners explore light, color and shadow using LED light sources, various materials, and a screen. The light shining on and through objects like reflective paper and plastic cups creates fascinating and surprising shadows.




Students created light and shadow sculptures over two class meetings. We introduced the activity using LED lights, motors, and a wide variety of materials and objects. We call this set up analog light play, as opposed to digital light play, which is a version of the activity that we brought the following week.


Day 1

We brought an analog light play set for the first week and were privileged (though surprised) to find that we had a class size that day that was three times larger than anticipated. The room was bustling with pairs and trios working inside cardboard light play boxes. Lighthouse has a classroom set of light play boxes made from cardboard and HDPE (high-density polyethylene) screens that we borrowed. We have found that 1/32" HDPE in a natural finish works best as a projection screen and we source them locally at TAP Plastics.

We structured the class by setting up each light play station with a light, a motor, and an interesting object or two. As students worked, they could walk over to the materials table and grab additional supplies to try. After groups worked on constructing their light and shadow sculptures, we gathered back together as a larger class and tasked groups to share out what they created so far and to give one another appreciations. Though it was hard for students to step away from their pieces, this was a great opportunity for others to take a break from their own work and to be inspired by their classmates.


One group was not able to use a motor in their box because we ran out of supplies. They wanted to have motion in their piece and took on the challenge of creating another type of movement. They decided to try sting and hung a piece of plexiglass from the inside of the cardboard box. The shadow of the star swayed gently and created a motion entirely different from other boxes that used motors.


Another box was entirely lined with mylar. Initially, they tried one piece of mylar, and were struck by the eery, sparkly effect that was produced on the screen. The mylar-lined box created even more bending of light.


After spending more time perfecting their pieces, we culminated class with building a light play wall, stacking the boxes on top of one another. I love to see all of the light play boxes together - seeing the similarities and differences between the boxes as well as taking in the full effect of the entire, cohesive piece.



Day 2

We had a much smaller class on the second day when the students experimented with programming the lights and motors of their light play boards. In partnership with the Scratch Team at the MIT Media Lab, we have been prototyping an app and board to incorporate into the activity to program the lights and motor. The app is designed to be an introduction into programming using blocks. Lights can fade between selected colors, and the motor can spin left and right.


And with that, we reached the end of the year at Lighthouse. A big thank you to the teachers and students at Lighthouse who made the past two years such a pleasure. I joined the team last fall, and being a teacher and collaborator in the Tinkering Club and with Lighthouse's after school team has been one of the highlights of my time with the Tinkering Studio.

Overdeck Family Foundation

This collaboration is funded by the Overdeck Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

More About Light Play

We facilitate light play in the Exploratorium within the Tinkering Studio, as well use it in professional development settings. We have introduced light play to Exploratorium High School Explainers, in the Art of Tinkering workshop, and for Maker Educator Meetups.

Recently, we have been actively working with light play, bringing the activity to LEGO headquarters in Billund, Denmark, to this year's Bay Area Maker Faire, and participating in this year's Scratch Day.

If you are interested in learning more about how to source and build the materials used for light play, check out our Instrucable.