Madison Children's Museum

For two days, Tiny Circus landed in the wonderland of imagination and play known as the Madison's Children Museum. We set up shop in the heart of Possible-opolis, right next to the Hodgepodge Mahal, an indoor jungle gym made from salvaged and repurposed materials. 
Entire families were engaged in the animation station whiteboard extravaganza. Participants would grab a marker and draw a tree growing, rain drops dropping, or sometimes wiggly patterns, juggling insects, or an octopus swimming, and then we'd all step back, take the shot, and again, draw or erase a bit more.
Perhaps you can tell: it was Halloween. This is the first ever tiny bunny to participate in a Tiny Circus animation. All animals are welcome, of course.
We projected the shots onto a small screen, so we could watch the amorphous whiteboard animation as it was being created.
That evening we played our animations at the Museum event, Beakers and Broomsticks, for a rotating cast of costumed children and adults. (The History of Ghosts and Ghost Trap were in the line-up that night.) With so much going on in the space (black light painting, dancing, slime making), luckily people were drawn into our room by snacks, and stayed for the animations. Hard to beat popcorn + candy corn + Tiny Circus animations. We also debuted the animations created by the students we worked with at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The University of Wisconsin, Madison

When we arrived at Mark Nelson's Interior Design course at the University of Wisconsin Madison, it was a considerable shift from our project with the elementary school in Mount Vernon.
In Madison, Tiny Circus spent time with two classes in the Design Studies department creating animations. After some conversation about Tiny Circus, animation practices, and the storyboard process, the students got straight to work. In Mark’s class, they collaboratively brainstormed, storyboarded, and animated “A Day in the Life of an Interior Design Student.”
Jenny Angus’s class created short animations in small groups. The stories ranged from the love story of French bread and cheese to dancing Army men to a crafty spider (why spin a web, when a hammock is more enticing?).
On the last day of class we watched and discussed the completed animations. In the context of a design class, we discussed the value of listening to the reactions of people who are removed from the making process: do the animations communicate the stories we were aiming to tell?
The films premiered as a part of the Madison Children's Museum Halloween celebration. More on that to come.

A Letter to the Editor in Mount Vernon

When Tiny Circus is on tour, it's one workshop after another. At times it feels as if our magic lanterns (Peanut and Silver Pelican, the airstream trailers) pop out a screen, project a show, and roll out. That's why we're grateful for any small window into the community reaction and lingering thoughts after our departure.

Here's a Letter to the Editor of the Mount Vernon Sun; a beautiful community reflection on Tiny Circus that was a treat to read.

'Tiny Circus' is art in the spirit of cooperation

On the evening of Thursday, Oct. 13, I was mesmerized by a free community showing of stop-motion-animation videos created by the students of Washington Elementary in collaboration with the Grinnell-based "Tiny Circus." This free showing took place on the south-side lawn of the elementary school with hundreds of people from the Mount Vernon community in attendance. It was an open air showing under the stars, the audience in lawn chairs, and on blankets; visiting with neighbors, parents, grandparents and anyone lucky enough to know it was happening that evening.

It was a magical event - a genuine collaboration on the part of children, their art and music teachers, Sarah Fitzgerald and Kristi Keast, and a group of traveling animation artists under the leadership of Carlos Ferguson, a gifted artist, communicator and all-around creative organizer.

This was Tiny Circus's second visit to Washington Elementary. The 2010 animation with Mount Vernon students titled "Elephant Trap" can be seen on YouTube. Photo-documentation of this years animation, "Giraffe Trap" can be seen if you go online and google: mustang moon, tiny circus.

Rich with whimsy, student-composed music, drawing, collage, live performance, and great degrees of patient practice on the part of everyone involved, this event points to a need many of us feel in our daily lives for the sort of cooperative engagement that can transform an idea into something actual.

In our current national climate of divisiveness and disrespect, a program that leads by example, teaching that cooperative effort makes us all winners is one that should be encouraged and continued in our school system. I only hope that continued funding for such worthwhile educational programming makes that possible.

Sue Coleman

Mount Vernon

Giraffe. Trapped.

They said it couldn’t be done.  They said it was too tall, eats too many leaves, can't be tracked, is perfectly silent. Camouflaged to near invisibility... ferocious to boot.  Many had tried, all had failed.

On October 14, Tiny Circus and 500 elementary school students proved the doubters wrong.

With loads of help from middle school and high school students, teachers, parents - and, of course, the local coffee shop - the giraffe was successfully (and non-violently) trapped!
The premiere of Giraffe Trap on the lawn of Washington Elementary School was a joyful, overflowing community event. Over 600 people - the creators, and their parents and neighbors - took in the 40-minute Tiny Circus show. There were lots of cheers and giggles throughout the night.

We loved working with such a supportive and enthusiastic community. Here are a few of the thank you notes and reflections on the project by the students.

To all this we say: we tingk it was a blast, too. Tank Ewe! We'll be back soon!

Hello Mount Vernon!

Autumn is in full leaves-falling, crisp air mode, and the drive from Grinnell - 80 miles East - to Mount Vernon, Iowa was a golden and dusty one.  Last year over 500 students at Washington Elementary School, as well as teachers and some middle and high school students created Elephant Trap, an animation that continues to delight audiences at our shows across the country.
We’re back in Mount Vernon again, this time with a taller order: we are trapping a giraffe!
Trapping the world's tallest giraffe requires lots of height so we decide to use a sky jack to become as tall as the giraffe.  By rigging the camera to the sky jack we are able to capture movements of the students below.
Back inside the school students fabricated parts of the trap and scenery then began bringing them to life at the animation station.  They also worked on composing and recording an original score for the film based off of the phrase "we're gonna catch a giraffe!"
Tiny Circus received a huge welcome back from the students, who covered the walls with an abundance of wonderfully original, handmade TC posters.  Thanks to the students and teachers for the rock star welcome! 
Our tallest trap yet will premiere at Washington Elementary School, Mount Vernon on Thursday, October 13th starting at dusk.

Ghost Trap Premiers at the Citizen Jane Film Festival

Tiny Circus was thrilled to be back at Citizen Jane for a third year as part of the Cirque du Cinema!  With Halloween approaching it was the perfect time to try our hand at trapping a ghost.  We had a blast collaborating with over 350 students at the EEE school as well as the University of Missouri students who came in to help each day.

After a week of hard work, Ghost Trap was completed just before premiering at the Opening Night of the 2011 Citizen Jane Film Festival.  The film was screened for the first time in a wonderful stable turned movie theater called the Rustic Ring.  Ghost Trap showed again before the Closing Night Film, Dish at the Missouri Theater  It was great seeing some of the newest Circus members in the audience to watch the animation we created together.  If you didn't get a chance to watch Ghost Trap at Citizen Jane you can watch it now on the Tiny Circus YouTube Channel.

University of Missouri Student Reflects on Ghost Trap

We're excited to introduce a new feature to our blog: posts by participants and observers of Tiny Circus in action. This week, Sam Jonesi, a student in Joanna Hearne's History of Animation class at the University of Missouri spent the morning at EEE School when we were in the midst of creating Ghost Trap with the 4th and 5th grade students. We spoke with Sam and his classmates about Tiny Circus when we arrived in Columbia, and they've been joining us at EEE School, participating in all the moving pieces of the animation process.

Here, Sam writes a wonderfully descriptive account of the experience:

Sometime the week before, I had been assured that simply by being in my History of Animation class the particular day Tiny Circus was presenting, that I was automatically a member of Tiny Circus. I didn’t feel that way. I was not hoping to go into film school, like many of the other members of my class. I was just a computer science student who needed a humanity and liked cartoons.  Still, I was looking forward to getting to be a part of the process of animation. I knew it was a tedious process, but I had no idea until I got to see it in action. Two whole classrooms of students were split into four groups. Each group would then go to a station and work on a task related to animation there, switching every thirty minutes or so.
EEE Students set-up animation stations to shoot Ghost Trap!
One group had chalkboard animation with Carlos. One student would be in charge of taking pictures using a laptop while the others would each be assigned to a bee. It would be the other students’ job to move the bee the tiniest bit. The student taking the picture would say “SHOOTING!"   The camera would make a “boop” sound, and then the student would say “GOT IT!” This was done at a rapid-fire pace, with students getting up and down quickly to get out of the way of the shot.
The students at the non-chalkboard animation station had to move more slowly and deliberately. They did their animation on what is essentially a table with a camera and lights on the top of it. The camera on this contraption was also controlled by a laptop. Each student was assigned a star, and had to move it a small amount. I participated in this process for a small bit, and found it quite tedious, and soon had to move on to something else. I later found out that using this method, it took fifteen minutes to create all of three seconds of animation. I find it amazing that Tiny Circus could hold on to the attention of so many children for so long, and have them collaborate to make something original. Judging by the animation of theirs that I have seen, they are quite good at this.

Animating the night sky
Another station involved making the construction-paper figures actually used in the animation. This is where the other MU student who assisted with Tiny Circus, Paige, spent most of her time. Today, the children at this station made soccer goals, soccer balls, soccer players, a bear, and a parachute (it all makes sense when you actually watch the animation).

The last station was sound. Here students were encouraged to make their own sound effects for the animation using whatever materials they could find in the room they were in, though they mostly used their own bodies and voices to create sound. I learned about this often-forgotten part of filmmaking, such as the idea that it’s best to have a three-second pause between sound effects to make them easier to separate for the sound editor.

A group of students record sound effects for a chase scene
Even though I barely participated directly in the process of animation, I still had a lot of fun watching. I could tell that animation is hard, tedious work, but getting to see the characters you’ve made all by yourself actually move I think would be worth it. I learned a lot that day, and I really did feel like a part of Tiny Circus.