Monumental mini movies at LACMA

I recently had the privilege of delivering a workshop for educators at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). I had been to the museum many times as a patron, but it was my first time collaborating with the staff. I was very impressed with their organization and attention to detail in the weeks leading up to the event, which made everything run very smoothly.

Sample Tabletop set from Monumental Mini Movies lesson plan.   (click for larger view)


Film still from Fritz Lange’s Metropolis

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I was invited to create a lesson plan for Tabletop Moviemaking around Fritz Lange’s ‘Metropolis’. At first this seemed a little overwhelming. After I read an accompanying essay on the exhibition provided by LACMA, I thought it made the most sense to watch the movie again. What jumped out at me right away where the sets he built to create this fictional city. Stacked buildings one on top of the other reaching toward the sky. It felt claustrophobic and the humans looked like ants. I began sketching skylines and a lesson emerged about how to create depth and and a sense of scale in a confined space.

Rough concept sketches of the Metropolis lesson plan. (click for larger view)

Repeating patterns of windows in tall buildings jumped out at me as I thought about the window as the standard unit of measure in an urban environment. If we change the size of the window, we are telling the viewer the window is either closer or further away. I created a simple handout to accompany the lesson that teachers could replicate along with three videos modeling how to use them (see playlist below).

The only downside to the whole evening was that I had a little under an hour with the teachers. Normally my workshops with teachers are 3 hours, so this would be just enough time to scratch the surface. I created laser perforated handouts for the teachers so they would be building their miniature skylines in minutes. I also created a sheet with characters and props at different sizes to reinforce this notion of scale.

Laser perforated items that accompanied the lesson plan. Note the different sizes to create a sense of scale. On the right folding the paper creates a texture and drop shadow.

I was amazed at what the teachers were able to create in just 50 minutes! While they all started with the same materials, each small group created a distinct city-scape. Toward the end of the workshop we framed their backdrops inside the Tabletop Studios and used iPads with iMovie to shoot a few short scenes. Given the time frame, this portion of the workshop was an introduction to the device, but teachers were able to frame, shoot and review their footage on the iPad. With more time they would have settled into shooting a short movie quite easily. In fact, I had groups of teachers stay after each session to do just that. Here are a few stills of the wonderful sets they created in only 50 minutes.

These are four samples teachers created during the 50 minute sessions. Each group started with the same raw materials, but chose to fill the frame in four different ways.