Archive for December, 2011

Aladdin Case Study

December 23, 2011 1 comment

This post describes the production of the special effects videos that staff and students from Carnegie College produced for the Aladdin pantomime that ran in December 2011 at the Alhambra Theatre in Dunfermline.

Initial contact

In October Bill Fletcher, owner of the Alhambra Theatre, approached Carnegie College to see if students could produce some animation sequences for the Aladdin pantomime scheduled later in the year. Bill was introduced to Colin Maxwell, Digital Media tutor, who was then put in touch with Lawrie McNicol, the show’s director.


Lawrie e-mailed a copy of the script and an explanation of  ideas for the pantomime:

I would be so grateful if you could do this for us as it would add magic to the whole panto.
There are two points in the panto that Bill thought you might help us with.
One would be the top of act one when the spirit of the mirror speaks to Abanaza it would perhaps be played by Jim Leashman as the spirit. I imagined an old fashioned flickering TV sort of affair projected on the front cloth as a mirror, maybe black and white I will e-mail you the script. The second and more complicated bit is page 45 when the gene says “kindly step onto this magic carpet we’ll be off” at that point I thought we could go to black out on stage and start the projection of Aladdin flying on the carpet out of the Alhambra theatre over dunfermline if possible.
My thoughts were Aladdin flying past birds rockets aeroplanes etc anything up in the sky (Whatever your students imagination can come up with) eventually arriving back at the theatre smashing through the windows, like back to the future, “End of act one” Maybe only 3 minutes long.


A meeting was held on 2nd November to talk through Lawrie’s ideas. At this stage the students had already made some suggestions for the flying carpet scene and Lawrie was keen to take many of these on board. Lawrie had many different ideas, including a lightsaber battle between Darth Vader and Aladdin.  At this meeting it was decided that  the actors would be filmed against a green screen so that the film could be composited with backgrounds and special effects.


At Carnegie College the students practised some of the scenes by setting up the green screen and staging a lightsaber duel. They filmed the sequences and used a variety of software applications to add the special effects. The students experimented with Adobe Premiere, Adobe Flash, LS maker and Particle Illusion to achieve the effects for the scenes.


The students also storyboarded the sequences to ensure there was a clear plan for the green-screen filming session.

<insert storyboards>


The next stage was the filming of the actors against a green background. Craig Chalmers (Aladdin), Jill Nadin (Genie) and Lawrie McNicol (Director, Magic Mirror) attended the photography studio at Carnegie College. Students collaborated in the shooting of the green-screen video. One of the students, Keiran, played the role of Darth Vader for the lightsaber duel. Abbie worked behind the scenes, ensuring the quality of the video and backing up the video files. Ailinn assisted in the studio and worked on the production of the Magic Mirror scene.

Green screen filming for Aladdin

Post Production

The first stage of post-production was to remove the backgrounds from the films shot in the studio. This was done using Adobe After Effects. This proved quite tricky due to Aladdin’s costume being a similar colour to the background, however a combination of chroma-key filtering and masking achieved the desired results. The magic carpet was created from a photograph and adjusted in Adobe Photoshop. The image was then composited with the green-screen footage in After Effects and a ripple effect added to make it look like the carpet was moving.

The final video clips were then imported into either Adobe Flash or Adobe Premiere Pro and composited with backgrounds and animated objects.

Particle Illusion was used to create a number of effects, including the space warp, lightsabers, fire, explosion and atmosphere re-entry effects.

The final video segments were combined in Adobe Premiere Pro and additional sound effects were added.

During the post-production stage videos posted to Youtube to allow the Alhambra team to see the progress of video effects sequences.


Some of the cast and production team attended Carnegie College on Thursday 8th December to see the final video sequence. Unfortunately, due to the stormy weather, all of the students had gone home for the day, but Tutor Colin Maxwell was able to show the team a near-complete version of the flying carpet scene. A few last minute changes were suggested (football fan Craig really wanted the football-heading scene added) and the next day the videos were handed over for a technical runthrough at the theatre.


The Alhambra technical crew solved a few technical issues with the projection of the video, but managed to get it projected the full width of the stage using Qlab and Keynote. The production team were very impressed by the quality of the video.

The Show

On Wednesday 21st December staff and students from Carnegie College were invited to the theatre to see the show. For many this was the first time they had seen the entire special effects sequences. Everyone was very impressed by the show and pleased when the college and students were mentioned during the performance and compared with Steven Spielberg!


Working on the special effects sequences for Aladdin was a very enjoyable experience for the students. It was a lot of work but the students (and staff) learned a lot from it. Looking forward to working on the next one…

Here’s what the press had to say…–oh-yes-it-is/

Here’s what the students had to say…

Graeme – “Just wanted to say, great afternoon with Colin , Abbie , Michael , Aaron, Ailinn and Joshua. Great bit of experience with the filming, planning etc. Thought we all worked well as a team and nice to see all the Flash work on the big screen…..”

Keiran –  “It has been such a great experience to work on this project. I’ve enjoyed being on this course much more than the whole time l spent at school”

Aladdin star Craig Chalmers commented –

Hi colin, please pass a final thank you to you and all the students.  What a wonderful final projection!  I have added your case study to my facebook if thats ok with you so all my friends, fans and followers can be made aware of your work.

hope you and the students have a merry christmas and happy new year

And here’s the final word from the Director –

Just a note to thank you and your students for all your hard work.
As you can see for yourself the result was amazing as I knew it would be.
The audiences loved the film scene at the end of act one and also the mirror in act one.
Thank you so much for bringing my dream to a reality.
Kind regards
and a Merry Christmas from me to you and your students

Lawrie McNicol

Categories: Adobe, Animation, teaching

Connected for Learning: Flipping the Classroom

December 19, 2011 3 comments

My presentation at Connected for Learning: Flipping the Classroom was about my experiences and plans for flipping my Art & Design Context class. It’s a unit that has been problematic in terms of student achievement, however through changing the classroom activities and style of teaching & learning I’ve managed to improve student achievement over the past 3 years. This year I decided to experiment with a ‘flipped classroom’ approach and try to cut down on classroom lectures and increase the amount of assessment done in class time.

Classroom lectures tend to be boring and often demonstrate all that is wrong with the Aeroplane Model of Education (sit down, face forward, switch off all electronic devices and belt up! @timrylands). Also, students tend to work on assessments in isolation, when they really need guidance and mentoring to keep them on track.

I’ve given my students TV shows (Art of America BBC4), Youtube Videos, lecture recordings and websites as research material and set them the task of researching art & design movements. This research is carried out away from class, in a place and a time of the students’ choosing. This is in line with a theory put forward by Jason Fried in his TED video entitled ‘Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work‘.

Back in the classroom we will work on the assessments, analysing the research and writing it up as a report. Almost universally students are poor at writing reports. It’s a skill that isn’t practised enough, and in making the assessment a classroom activity I’m better placed to help students select relevant research and write it in the correct format. I’m hoping that this will help the students’ future education and employment prospects.

Links from my presentation at Connected for Learning: Flipping the Classroom, Stirling, 20th December 2011.

Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work – Jason Fried, TED

Facebook in the Classroom – Gillian McArthur, Carnegie College

Supporting Learning with Facebook, Google and WordPress – JISC RSC Scotland

A Day in the Life of Social Media – DBA Worldwide

Categories: Conference, CPD

Adapt or Die…one year on…

December 4, 2011 1 comment

Last year I wrote “Edupunks have been making, sharing and collaborating already, and their practices will have to become mainstream for quality further & higher education to continue as before.”

Image by Robert Brook (Flickr) used under CC

Here are some of my other predictions and comments on how they have (or haven’t) come true.

Cuts will lead to less investment in ICT, staff and support.

Budgets are virtually zero. There have been spending ‘holds’ and all spending must be approved by top level management. Has anyone had any decent training this year?

Educators will embrace the cloud, moving their course content into the open network and enabling greater sharing between institutions and across boundaries that were previously seen as no-go areas.

In my department we’ve moved our course materials to Google Apps / Sites. I frequently see educators at Teachmeets and on Twitter talking about the Web 2.0 tools they’re using – blogs, wikis, etc. Some Scottish teachers are moving outside of Glow, as they find it limiting. Even the Scottish education minister, Mike Russell, has cut funding for Glow as web 2.0 tech provides more and better for free.

Closed Virtual Learning Environments will be replaced by open networks of collaboration.

See above. My department is using Facebook and Google Apps / Sites. Increasingly other educators are using the best tools for the job, not just what their institution purchased. The Centre for Innovation, Learning & Teaching at my college has set up a ‘Love Teaching Love Technology’ Facebook group which has been joined by many people from outside the college.

Course materials will be shared under Creative Commons licensing.

Look at Adobe Education Exchange or the TES Education resources site. I’m sure there are more.

Increasingly, open source and free software will become the norm rather than the exception.

The use of online tools is increasing rapidly. Google Docs, Phone Apps, Cloud storage. A week doesn’t go by without a new one appearing and someone tweeting about how they’re using it in education. Students are turning to cloud storage to overcome the limitations in their education establishments…so are teaching staff.

Teams of educators, adopting an open-source philosophy, will collaborate worldwide to maintain or replace systems that once were run by commercial concerns and left to wither and die (Delicious?). is a great example – support forums & blogs for teachers, made by a teacher, supported by teachers. The Educator’s PLN is also another example of a place where collaboration and networking is taking place. I’m sure there are more that I can’t think of just now.

Students will adapt to using their own equipment, phones, cameras, netbooks which will no longer be supplied by their institution.

Sometimes half of my class have their own laptops with them. Several have started using their own still and video cameras as they’re ‘better than the old ones at college’. Phones are used constantly for social media and students use them to post to their class Facebook groups at all times of day and night.

Paperless working will have finally arrived.

This week my college started charging students for each print they make. Although the cost is small, many students are asking to submit work electronically, and staff are encouraged to allow them to do so. Staff training session are being offered to help lecturers to make better use of electronic media. I have forgotten the PIN code for the photocopier as I use it so little.

Learning from your own home (and teaching from home) will negate the need for costly buildings and transportation.

The ‘flipped classroom’ is probably this year’s top education buzzword. It’s about learning and researching at home, before going to class for meaningful activities related to the learning. Education management’s attitude to this needs to change, as many still don’t like the idea of staff and students not being visible in the workplace.

Student socialising will happen in the virtual world, but become increasingly sophisticated with the addition of video conferencing and collaborative tools.

Facebook has become the tool of choice for extra-mural (and sometimes intra-mural) communication. Educators post important class information, assessments and learning material on Facebook. Students share their work, post tips and help each other online.

Students will have greater choice as real online learning becomes possible and location becomes less important.

The Khan Academy is probably the best known example – offering videos on many different learning topics. Stanford University is offering free online courses (I’ve signed up for Computer Science which starts in February). More and more institutions are offering free, open content.

This is the present of education. This is 2012. You’ve adapted, or you’re dead.

Categories: teaching

SQA Heads of Computing annual update

December 3, 2011 1 comment

The annual SQA update was held on 2nd December in Glasgow and attended by around 50 Heads of computing, college staff and others from related sectors.

The update included an introduction from manager Bobby Elliot, Senior verifier David Drennan explaining the new QA procedures, Gerry Mackie’s update on qualifications and Graeme Clark’s update on the SOLAR online assessment system.

I was asked to present a case study of delivering the NPA Computer Games Development. A summary of my presentation is below.

Links from the presentation: 
Eric Schmidt video – 
Prime Minister article – 
Comp Ed Net – 
Colin’s blog – 
LTS Consolarium – 
NESTA review –

Presentation backchannel on Twitter / Facebook

Ron Dillin Just back from the SQA Heads of Computing event in Glasgow. Colin Maxwell’s talk on computer games was the highlight for me. Well done Colin!
Gillian McArthur Yip. Definitely star of the show. Always interesting though. Oh show and Colin. 🙂

Cjones1976 Chris jones Enjoyed presentation by @camaxwell never considered using blender to create games, if solar only assessment we will lose diversity #hoc2011

SQAComputing SQA Computing team – Great presentation from @ camaxwell on how best to deliver the new NPAs in Computer Games.

joecar Joe Wilson #hoc2011 @Camaxwell folks should follow Colin to get more out of computer games qualifications

joecar Joe Wilson @camaxwell should already get prize for best interactive presentation #hoc2011

joecar Joe Wilson @camaxwell gaming teaches programming without building another stock control system #HOC2011 tasks have to be interesting

GerryDougan Gerry Dougan #hoc2011 Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made ! Eric Schmidt Chairman, Google

GerryDougan Gerry Dougan #Colin Maxwell on programming – a student view – ‘O h no, not another stock control system’!

GerryDougan Gerry Dougan #hoc2011 Colin Maxwell – audience participation and engagement using a ‘real’ version of Angry Birds to highlight game design principles

David McDade Yep well done Colin, I particularly enjoyed the swearing 😉