February 18, 2010


The Klutz Book of Animation. By John Cassidy & Nicholas Berger. Klutz. $19.95.

Doodle Journal: My Life in Scribbles. By Karen Phillips. Klutz. $16.95.

     Klutz books are great encouragers of hands-on activities, but even books that help show young readers how to do things with their hands need to connect to our digital age – and The Klutz Book of Animation does just that. Nowadays it just isn’t enough to put together a wonderful instruction book about stop-motion clay animation and package it with a smiling blob of plasticine (yes, smiling – it has googly eyes and a smile on its wrapper). You also need to show kids what their videos (not films anymore) can look like – so the book connects to a special Web site, www.klutz.com/ani, where those videos are on display. This is a good thing, because without the videos, kids might have to watch really good, bad old movies featuring the classic animation of Ray Harryhausen – or maybe the thoroughly modern and delightful Wallace & Gromit cartoons – to see what stop-motion animation is all about; and there is simply no way that beginners can match what Harryhausen and W&G’s Nick Park have come up with. Kids can aspire to those heights, though, and aspiration is a lot of what Klutz crafts books are about. So The Klutz Book of Animation provides all the basic tools that kids will need to make their own animated videos – plus some not-so-basic ones, including free downloads of software and sound effects. Stop-motion animation takes patience, so kids who have trouble staying focused on projects will likely get frustrated by the careful, step-by-step requirements of this approach. But other budding filmmakers (or video makers) will find it fascinating to re-create the animations shown online by Klutz – and then move on to develop their own. All the simple and some beyond-simple techniques are here, very clearly explained: “onion skin” to show the prior position of an animated object, making it easy to keep moves in line; shot angles; tracking; morphing; pixilation; and much more. And the book, in typical Klutz fashion, insists on not taking itself seriously all the time: it includes such extras as punch-out mouths and disco costumes, plus a “ratoscope” to demonstrate one animation principle by making rats seem to crawl. The Klutz Book of Animation gives would-be Hollywood (or Bollywood) moguls enough behind-the-scenes information to get them started on a rewarding career – or at least help them understand what is really going on when they watch some of their favorite animated productions.

     But who needs something as elaborate as animation to develop creativity? Sometimes all that is required is a bunch of paper and a nice pen, like the one attached to the front of Klutz’s Doodle Journal. This book is, of course, a journal, spiral bound to open flat. It is crammed with all sorts of material designed to encourage note-taking, life-chronicling and – of course – doodling. The margins here (and some entire pages) are filled with swirls and words and splats and colorful something-or-others that may inspire kids to imitation or to doing something entirely different (either approach is just fine). Many pages have very faint bits of drawing visible. For instance, a brightly colored girl is walking off the left page, but her long and curly hair is very pale and barely visible – suitable for coloring, tracing or ignoring completely while making her hair look entirely different from the way the pale lines make it appear. There are quotations sprinkled around the book, too, such as “it is better to play than do nothing – Confucius” and “I have never let schooling interfere with my education – Mark Twain.” Because there is no such thing as a mistake when doodling, there are pages about mistakes and “random scribbles” to be completed, changed, or simply labeled. One of the cleverest things in the book is “groodling,” which is group doodling: pages are divided in three parts and set up to flip, so three people can draw three different parts of a character and then create flip books that mix up the top, center and bottom parts. Another clever idea here is a page devoted to action – but “action scenes are hard to draw. Fortunately, this one is happening in the dark of night, so all you have to do is fill the space with sounds.” Among the suggested noises are “prooompf,” “klop” and “ga-boing.” There are a few traditional journal-like pages here, such as ones with questions: “If you and your friends were in a band, what kind of music would you play?” But even these tie into doodles: for example, you draw yourself and friends playing instruments. Doodle Journal is, in sum, an exercise in creative thinking – abetted by the encouragement and sense of humor in which Klutz specializes.

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