Holding a 3-inch-tall Tolkien-inspired wizard named Schmandalf that she fashioned out of modeling clay, Olivia Hatcher set about the painstaking process of creating a stop-motion film for her summer camp class.
Using one of Maryvale Preparatory School's digital single-lens reflex cameras affixed to a tripod -- instead of holding a camera phone or a "point-and-shoot" with no adjustable settings -- the fifth-grader from Towson posed and re-posed Schmandalf to simulate human movements while photographing the figurine a couple hundred times between adjustments.
The time-consuming art form, which requires determination mixed with foresight and visualization, would eventually yield her a 45-second movie.
Olivia is one of many students who are attracted each summer to several variations of moviemaking camps offered at sites across the Baltimore metro area. Camps, which usually run for a week and are grouped by age, also can cover such topics as special effects, green-screen technology and computer-generated imagery.
And the camps allow budding filmmakers to absorb other skills that they can later apply to school assignments.
"Moviemaking teaches critical thinking along with planning and time management," says Lisa Cohen, chair of Maryvale's technology department. She describes her students as quiet and industrious as they work intently in the course's loosely structured atmosphere.
Adds Karen Fridinger, summer camp nurse: "It also teaches patience. In today's fast-paced world, experiencing delayed gratification is important."
Aside from Claymation -- a format many TV viewers connect to 1964's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or, more recently, to "Chicken Run," a box office hit in 2000 -- stop-motion animation actually dates back to the late 19th century, according to Cohen, who has taught the course for four summers.
The process has been refined and redefined over the decades, but remains a popular storytelling technique, she says. Cohen's students, some of whom "run up the stairs every day in a hurry to get to class," post their films on a password-protected private Internet channel, making it fun to see what others have accomplished.
At Howard Community College, the Kids on Campus summer program offers Ultimate Claymation and Stop-Action and two other moviemaking camps: Lightz, Camera, Action and FX: The Science of Special Effects. They are operated by New Jersey-based Black Rocket Productions, which runs moviemaking camps across the mid-Atlantic region and will begin its fifth year on the Columbia campus this summer.
"There are no prerequisites for these classes; we teach all of the skills and supply the equipment," says Amber Georgieff of Black Rocket. "Our basic themes are safety, fun and learning. We're really about them having a great time."
Recent films that have captured young filmgoers' imaginations and stirred interest in learning FX skills include "Life of Pi," "The Avengers" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," she says.
And filmmaking is not a passing fad, Georgieff notes, but is emblematic of kids' ongoing preference for visual modes of communication.
Christopher Lewis says he figured out how to succeed in his special effects class for elementary school students at HCC, where students can appear to break the rules of time and space in the videos they create.
"You have to stay focused," advises the Glenwood resident, who was editing a video of himself shooting baskets with Magic Shot software. "You have to get used to it, but once you get the hang of it, it's easier."
Diana Omar of Ellicott City agreed with her young classmate's assessment, adding that's she "learned a lot and plans to make videos at home" with her newly acquired skills.
At McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Young Filmmakers Camp is heading into its 10th season after an unbroken nine-year string of sold-out summer sessions.
Campers work on scripting, filming and editing films using iMovie software. Working in groups, they create movie trailers, music videos, commercials, and a final film on DVD. The well-rounded session also includes Adobe Photoshop, crazy film clips, acting school, and active outdoor and indoor games.
"The key to the program is its title," says Josh Halpren, who was first a McDonogh camper and then a counselor across seven summers, in an e-mail. "At Young Filmmaker's Camp, the focus isn't on the film but on the filmmaker.
"While technical skills are important, our goals always focused on providing a safe, enriching environment where [kids] could be goofy, creative, social and most importantly themselves," he writes. "I know that we helped hundreds of students to find their voices and gain the confidence they needed to use them."
Kristyn James, a TV production teacher at High Point High School in Prince George's County during the school year, summed up the kids' summer experience in her HCC class:
"I see a great deal of change in the students while they're here for five days," she says. Aside from filmmaking skills, they learn cooperation and organization while making friends.
"These [skills] are powerful tools and can even help students with writing," James says. "It's important to learn different ways to communicate."
Quiet on the set!
There is a broad spectrum of moviemaking camps to choose from for parents with a budding filmmaker in the household. Here is a sampling of what will be available this summer:
Glenelg Country School, Ellicott City, glenelg.org
All Aboard for Hollywood is aimed at children who love to sing, dance, play a musical instrument and act. Students will write, direct, and film their very own scene; compose and produce their own song and star in a music video; and learn choreography, including jazz and hip-hop. Campers will receive a DVD copy of all the fun. Classes are for grades 3-5 or 6-8.
Howard Community College, Columbia, howardcc.edu
HCC offers three classes for campers grouped by age. In FX: The Science Behind Special Effects, campers will experiment with visual and mechanical effects as well as using green screens and computer-generated imagery (CGI). Campers finish the program with a digital representation of their FX project. In Lightz, Camera, Action, campers use pre-written scripts to learn what it takes to make a movie from in front of the camera as well as behind it. Once filming is complete, students will edit their films using audio and video special effects and take their finished products home. In Ultimate Claymation and Stop Action class, students can re-create their favorite movie scene or invent an original short film with nothing but an idea and modeling clay.
Key School, Annapolis, keyschool.org
Filmsters Academy at Key School offers two-week classes for beginning, intermediate or advanced filmmakers. At every level, each child learns to pitch, write, direct, shoot and edit his/her films. Working as one team on one or two films under the supervision of professional filmmakers, students create a more complex short film for potential entry into student film festivals. All potential candidates will be required to attend a short interview session with the filmmakers and must be self-motivated team players who want to hone their skills and pursue their passion for filmmaking.
McDonogh School, Owings Mills, mcdonogh.org
Young Filmmaker's Camp is for ages 10 to 14 and focuses on creating imaginative and humorous films using iMovie under the direction of seasoned teachers Cara and Will Detwiler. All materials and equipment are supplied by the camp. At the end of the session, campers go home with a DVD of their creations.
Maryvale Preparatory School, Brooklandville, maryvale.com
Claymation and Animation is aimed at girls who have an idea for an animated movie and those who have wanted to make their own movies like "Chicken Run." Campers create one or two animated movies with the help of Lisa Cohen, technology department chair, and all movies are edited. Digital single-lens cameras and tripods are provided, as are most props for creating characters and background scenery.