Case Studies/Movie-Tom.Com

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"I have deliberately chosen challenging blockbuster themes like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jurassic Park, Titanic, and Space Odyssey to show what can now be done quickly with a movie studio on a card table. " — Dr Tom is the video "Tent" of, demonstrating techniques of movie-making with readily-available software and tools.

URL: [1]

Author/Organisation: Dr Tom Benjamin

User Status: Creator

Tags: music, video, tv, chautauqua, e-chautauqua

License short name: CC BY License URL:

Media: Sound, MovingImage

Country: Australia


This site is about movie-making. Although the sample movies are offered freely as Creative Commons items their purpose is to demonstrate techniques. I have deliberately chosen challenging blockbuster themes like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jurassic Park, Titanic, and Space Odyssey to show what can now be done quickly with a movie studio on a card table.

Making movies as a new variant on ‘the school play’ is certainly possible -ie– a full digital multimedia studio can be set up on a card table at less than the cost of a single tuba for the high school marching band. Whether this is desirable is another question.

Teachers are under ever more pressure to provide multimedia-rich materials for the classroom. Methods and materials are particularly demanded for digital stories, Interactive White Boards, netbooks, and mobile devices. At the same time, despite implementing new, untried, and time-consuming technologies, teachers are expected to deliver better results in basic skills. My role is to help by making things simple.

The intended use of this site is to demonstrate short customisable scenario-setting introductions to games and quests that can then be played out in text documents, digital stories, spreadsheets, web searches, and even live actions like puppetry and paper & pen exercises.

Movie-Tom.Com is definitely NOT a web resource promoting ‘student film-making’. Nothing would be more dangerously distracting to a classroom than a full motion picture studio. Running around the room in front of a blue screen pretending to be Superman, then seeing the image superimposed on a flying backdrop is great fun – but it may have no educational value whatsoever to most KLAs. The blue screen is just one of the many dazzling techniques only just very recently available on the personal computer. Countless hours could be wasted in frivolous uses of such powerful technology. Some effects like claymation have come back into vogue with digital methods of photography. Again, it could become an extremely time-consuming distraction to use claymation to produce a 30 second video clip. It is true that traditional ‘project’ assignments often involved building something (I built many a ship model for my school projects) but it is up to the teacher to determine how much weight and time to give such tasks. My role is to offer alternatives to cut the production time down.

What do we mean by “a movie studio?”Italic text

The term is used here in a restricted sense to mean the facilities to do full audio-visual capture, editing, and broadcast. In practice in a school environment, the facility would not be used to capacity to create a full length motion picture but, rather, would create ‘animated short films’ as part of ‘digital story-telling’ or posting to a sharing site like YouTube. Much hosting is now free so the limitation has become your time and labour. A 1950s Hollywood team would have very likely drooled over the technologies now available on a current desktop computer, but they had creative teams, writers, professional actors, sound engineers, and a host of camera and light-grippers. A school has a very small team compared to this and a lot fewer hours to devote.

So the first point is that the movies discussed in this web resource have a modest aim – the purpose is to create short movie sequences, say 30 seconds to 5 minutes long, that quickly set the scene for a ‘Hero’s Journey’. The recommended ‘all-purpose’ sequences are news broadcasts. In real life, most adventures today begin with some sort of brief newscast –ie- “a scientist believes that the cure to Cancer lies in the …”, “police are seeking help from the public in identifying a …”, “We want your calls on the open line as to whether you support …”. By using text-to-speech artificial adult voices, the game creator can quickly re-use, edit, and customize these broadcasts to suit nearly any subject. Characters and scenes to flesh out the newscast’s ‘live report’ can be animated from the humblest materials. Large scale scenes can be created with plastic soldiers, animated ‘virtual crowds’, or even hordes such as the armies in The Lord of the Rings. Animation programmes such as The Movies provide full 3D sets that can be montaged with miniature and live sets. combines the traditional halves of a traditional chautauqua –ie- speakers and music. Movies using animation and rear projection techniques can bring to life historical events, old public domain songs, and powerful documentaries. The Movie-tom.Com movies at the same time demonstrate to educators some of the techniques now available for quick, powerful custom movie-making such as 3D animation, voice synchronisation, multitracking, pitch-shifting, puppetry, rear projection, and chroma-key - just to name a few. Archival public domain movie footage is given new life when populated with digital avatars and puppets.

License Usage

Copyright is central to movie-making. Students are taught from an early age to respect copyright. Toys and some products may be classed as ‘art works’ and subject to copyright provisions. Many jurisdictions such as Australia exempt use of copyright materials if used in the classroom. Clearly posting to the world at large via the Web, even under Creative Commons, is not exempt. However, use of props, clip art, and the like greatly speeds production time. For educational purposes the only justification for doing things the labour-intensive way is when that is the subject matter –ie- a tedious claymation may be perfectly sensible in an art class in which the moulding and positioning of the clay figure is the subject of the lesson. It makes less sense in a History or Maths class if it is only used to enliven a lesson. Short cuts are more suitable for the latter. Live action remains hard to do, hence the value of archival and purchased materials. Live action with child actors playing famous adults, no matter how many audio-visual effects are used, will not be in the least convincing. Movies can now be based on home camera footage and animation, backed by recorded live audio effects and music either bought for the purpose or carefully researched and confirmed to be from the international public domain. Only the resulting arrangements and performances have to be specified as Creative Commons.

A student, avatar or puppet can don costume and appear in a live scene or in front of a blue screen. This can then be dubbed over with an adult text-to-speech voice, the child could talk through a $10 voice-changer device, or be pitch-shifted downward with Audacity software. A face can be lifted from still shots and pasted on as a ‘skin’ to an animated character with the adult voice. In this way a child can appear side by side with an animated miniature, or appear in an old public domain movie.

Digital cameras have at least removed the earlier problems of lighting that bedevilled live filming –ie- watch a film crew on location. Even on bright sunny days they use huge reflector panels and floodlights. They bring truckloads of gear and personnel. The food alone requires a truck! A small digital camera now takes decent shots in all levels of lighting. What this makes easy is hybrid ‘montage’ filming. Digital editing allows live action footage to be combined with animations, miniatures and puppets backed by archival footage or stills. For quick rough results a video camera can even take a shot of the computer screen. Modern screens don’t flicker.

Thus, a whole range of realistic scenes can be assembled to draw on the best attributes of each. What I term’hybrid claymation’ and ‘integrated media’ refers to taking a prop or character across different media. For example a 2D clip art face can be turned 3D with an animation programme like iClone. This in turn can become a still shot of the face and animated in CrazyTalk. The character can be printed out on paper and made into a puppet or a virtual puppet can be created in the computer. All this footage can be mixed to show the character in different scenes and in close-ups.

Live footage excels with sensory material –ie- the live footage might show the Roman emperor eating something, which could be hard to animate, while the animation could show the emperor addressing a multitude in the Coliseum, which would be hard to do live.  Similarly, an animated Roman sandal doesn’t give the feel for the dust and pain of walking miles on a thin piece of leather.  A child’s foot with a real sandal filmed walking on gravel toward a blue screen, however, can become a scene of a soldier crunching toward Rome.

The resulting combination of images, from live footage, purchased materials and public domain archives is ideally suited to a Creative Commons distribution. There is no commercial intent. Nor is there any intent to trick viewers into thinking the student created the entire movie. Old black & white footage, for example is very distinctive as are old soundtracks. They can be blended into a new movie but few would be so naïve as to have difficulty distinguishing the old and new elements. If students succeed in making their ‘new’ look like and blend with the ‘old’ (with sepia colouring for example) the old footage loses nothing from this sincerest form of flattery.


As a researcher, I have had the luxury of time to test out hardware, software, techniques, props, and special effects. This web resource is intended to structure the introduction of the technology so that it serves educational ends. My hours of experimentation will save the viewer from many dead ends and wasted effort. Your time is far more costly and valuable than the hardware involved.

I have looked past claims by vendors and evangelists that multimedia miracles are ‘easily created by very young children in mere minutes’. Even if you assumed such claims were true or even believable, when you accumulate those minutes on each software programme together they can stretch out to weeks and months. This is especially so in this era of ‘online forums‘ in place of printed manuals. Teachers are public speakers who can’t go fishing around for some obscure drop-down, button, or right-click menu when in front of a class.

The purpose of this web resource is to provide a set of tools that teachers can use selectively to enhance whatever subject or exercise they think might benefit from a game or virtual world version. The purpose is NOT to add to their pressures with yet more high cost, time-draining distractions but quite the opposite – to give short cuts into the world of motion pictures that has only very recently been opened up to amateurs with minimal budgets.

I have installed software, developed simple animation techniques, converted files, filmed different materials under different lighting, scoured shops for cheap props, in other words done many of the things teachers would have had to learn the hard way and would likely never have the time to try. From this I have assembled a set of very affordable materials and short cuts that will allow short films using many special effects we have come to associate with Hollywood and Pinewood.

I’m posting them ‘as is’ –ie- rough. If I spent time editing and refining them I’d be lying to you if I said it took ‘minutes’ if it actually took days.

Music and education were central to Chautauqua Italic text

Movie-making fits well with the Expression Tent of our and complements and . Therefore it is well-suited to Creative Commons.


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