Hollywood comes to San BrunoBy Heather Murtagh
What if kindergartners could take writing a story one step farther?
Instead of just writing a short story, there could be illustrations turned into animation and the voice of children added in to tell the story. This sort of animation education is being proposed to the San Bruno Elementary School District today. The program, called the James Hong Voice Animation for Education Center, would allow children to do just that. Hong, a Hollywood actor with a resume as long as most feature length films, began the program because he has been working a lot with animation lately and wanted to do something positive. Hong brought the program to San Bruno because he is friends with Andy Ching, who is a district parent and now the project's director.
During a Tuesday demonstration, Jordan and Jacob Ng each stood in front of a microphone waiting for the cartoon animation to begin to show how the animation works. Each boy recited the part of one character on screen using Mandarin. Two minutes later, the cartoon is played back for the audience to see. The language doesn't line up quite right but it's still a cartoon featuring the student's voices.
The concept was originally presented in San Bruno at Belle Aire Elementary School a few years back as a completely conceptual idea. The group asked if it could come back and present the idea again now that it's a bit closer to reality.
"You can make questions about history or science; anything you want to put into the mouth of the teacher. You can create any question," said Hong.
The group hopes to put together a classroom full of the technology so students can create these things within the next three years. It's a pretty simple process; the students draw a photo which is then scanned into the computer. A bit of animation is added to make the mouth of the person move, for example, then the student's voice is used to go along with it, said Project Director Andy Ching.
The use of animation has yet to be brought into the classroom allowing the students to work on what is produced. Many of the programs needed to make this a reality for teachers and students on a day-to-day basis is available.
However, it just is not put together the way it needs to be, said Arne Wong, animation instructor at the Academy of Art University who is working on the project as well.
Everyone in attendance seemed to be excited about the project even if there were a few kinks.
"It's interesting and this is new. It looks like it takes advantage of the technology that's out there. ... Children these days are really computer savvy and they focus a lot easier on those things. Still, it needs work," said parent Jonathan Ng.
Trustee Skip Henderson said he dreamed about programs as amazing as this that would give San Bruno the possibility to use technology in the classroom. Superintendent David Hutt agreed.
"If you become engaged in it, it's different than if it's bombarded at you on Saturday mornings and yet it's part of their world. A dimension from the kids' world to positively influence them," he said.
These won't be the average Saturday morning cartoons, but students will also learn through recognition of their own voice.
The sample program featured students already able to speak other languages like Arabic and Russian to perform the dialogue. Anna Livhyts, a 12-year-old sixth grader, for example, spoke a skit in Russian. While she practiced to perform, she watched other people say "how do you do" in Arabic, which she now learned.
In the future, the project aims to include an option that would allow the voice to be translated into different languages rather than only being able to teach in languages students can speak. The hope is the student's voice would remain the same -- to engage students -- but the language would change.
"We were going through rehearsal and I swear by the time we were done we all knew how to say, 'how are you doing?' in four different languages," said Ching.
Copyright ©2006 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 05/17/2006.