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FISH FACE: Character Design & Animation

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Keywords: animation, ocean advocacy, character design, fish, sustainability
Subject(s): Drama, Journalism, Science, Photography, Information Skills, Biology, Earth Science, Animation, Music, Life Science, Technology, Art
Grades 3 through 8
NETS-S Standard:
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Research and Information Fluency
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Technology Operations and Concepts
View Full Text of Standards
School: Rooftop School, San Francisco, CA
Planned By: Andi Wong
Original Author: Andi Wong, San Francisco
Students will explore how animators use facial expressions, physical gesture and sound to create characters, as they work with a partner to create an animated short. Students will be introduced stop motion animation with a screening of Nick Park’s claymation classic, Creature Comforts.

This animation assignment will help students to learn about the many different kinds of fish that live in our oceans and help to cultivate an appreciation for the diversity of life under the sea. Students will learn about environmental issues that impact the lives of fish, such as global warming, ocean acidification, destruction of habitat and overfishing through Mark Kurlansky’s book, “A World Without Fish."

Each student will design a character, representing themselves as fish, and use their characters to create a short animated scene with dialogue. Selected animated shorts will be used as public advocacy tools to build awareness of the importance of fish to the health of our ecosystem.


Ask the students to look up the “word of the day.” “Anthropomorphic” is defined in Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary as “described or thought of as being like human beings in appearance, behavior, etc.

Share examples of well-loved animated characters, anthropomorphic creatures who have been designed with human characteristics, such as Mickey Mouse, Tweety Bird, or Nemo. Tell the students that they will be designing a claymation character that will represent themselves as fish.

Use the following questions to help the students to think about the characteristics of a particular species of fish that they will use to represent themselves.

• What size am I, big or small?
• What color am I, plain or flashy?
• Am I social or solitary?
• How do I move, fast or slow?
• Where do I live, what part of the world?
• What do I eat, what might eat me?
• My personality traits? Shy, bossy, funny, etc.


• Review the definition and the parts of the fish with the illustration on the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fish

• Give students a list of interesting fish names to explore and research, such as the Lionfish, the Stonefish, the Picasso Triggerfish, or the Blobfish. Students can explore the on-line photo gallery at Oceanlight.com: List of Fish Species - Fish Photos http://www.oceanlight.com/fish.html

• Students should pick out a fish that they think would best represent themselves. Students may decide to choose to learn more about a fish that is not on the provided list.


• Students will design and name their characters, and begin to think about how they might move and sound. Character design drawings will be posted and shared with the class.


The scenario for the animated short:
The fish try to persuade their two-legged neighbors to care about the ocean by sharing their perspective about what’s going on today.

Students will work together to storyboard and write a script that involves a 30 second conversation between two fish who address the viewer. The students should consider the perspective and personality of their fish characters, as well as the real-world issues that fish are facing, when scripting the beginning, middle and end of their animated short. The students should also come up with a title for their short film.

Students will film themselves acting out their scripted dialogue with a Flip video camera. The video can then be used as reference material during production.

Step 3: Animation

Students work together to sculpt and pose their characters as they use a digital camera on a tripod to created the frame-by-frame photos that will be used to animate their characters (Approximately 10 frames per second for 30 seconds equals 300 images total.) They will also work in Garageband to record their dialogue or add sound effects.


Students will use video editing software such as Stop Motion Pro (PC) or iMovie (Mac) to put together their animated images and sound, adding titles and credits.


Students will share their finished movies with the class in a special screening that will include peer feedback and reflection on the student learning. Artists will draft a written artist statement about their involvement to be included in the screening program handout that will also serve as a self-assessment.


With parental permission, examples of outstanding student work will be shared via the school’s website and additional public venues such as The Blue Marble Project www.bluemarbles.org to raise awareness by giving children a way to actively contribute to ocean stewardship efforts.
Additional animated films that can be shared with the class to illustrate character design: Finding Nemo, Ponyo, The Little Mermaid and Flushed Away
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
Explore the ocean sciences with your students. Download the College of Explorations Guide for Ocean Literacy: The Essential Principles of Ocean Sciences.
Introduce your students to The Blue Marble Project, and join others who want to help our Blue Marble Planet. Visit the website to learn more about what your students can do to "commit random acts of ocean kindness" at www.bluemarbles.org
Links: National Geographic: The Ocean
College of Exploration
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Marine Educators
Centers for Ocean Sciences
Materials: Student Resources, Early Composition, Video Tools, Animation, CDs and DVDs, Memory Cards, Batteries, Tripods, Hard Drives, Projector Screens, Portable, Digital SLR, Flip Video
Other Items: 4 Claytoon Modeling Clay for claymation (Yellow), $3.75 each, total of $15.00
4 Claytoon Modeling Clay for claymation (Black), $3.75 each, total of $15.00
4 Claytoon Modeling Clay for claymation (Blue), $3.75 each, total of $15.00
5 Claytoon Modeling Clay for claymation (Hot Colors Set), $3.75 each, total of $18.75
4 Claytoon Modeling Clay for claymation (Green), $3.75 each, total of $15.00
5 Claytoon Modeling Clay for claymation (Cool Colors Set), $3.75 each, total of $18.75
4 Claytoon Modeling Clay for claymation (Red), $3.75 each, total of $15.00
4 Claytoon Modeling Clay for claymation (White), $3.75 each, total of $15.00