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Animation Station at the Smithsonian: a labor of love

From: Branden Hall: Interactive Architect and Digital Maker

Video: Animation Station at the Smithsonian: a labor of love

Branden Hall: So, another one of our projects was a pro-bono piece we did for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Udvar-Hazy wing, out by Dulles Airport. It's a new wing of the Air and Space Museum that's essentially a huge hangar, a series of hangars, with lots of different planes and things about the history of flight. It's a really amazing museum space. And we have a good friend of mine and my wife's that works there, and she had this great idea to help teach kids about animation as part of their education outreach program.

Animation Station at the Smithsonian: a labor of love

Branden Hall: So, another one of our projects was a pro-bono piece we did for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Udvar-Hazy wing, out by Dulles Airport. It's a new wing of the Air and Space Museum that's essentially a huge hangar, a series of hangars, with lots of different planes and things about the history of flight. It's a really amazing museum space. And we have a good friend of mine and my wife's that works there, and she had this great idea to help teach kids about animation as part of their education outreach program.

So she approached me and said, "We really want to do some amazing things with stop-motion animation, but we have these off-the-shelf systems that are too complicated and cost too much money. We need something that really gives kids this really rapid experience, where they can come up to it and make animation in the really beautiful old-school stop-motion way, but it be extremely approachable and where they're able to actually walk away with their animation in their hands." So we worked with them, we came up with different ideas, we figured out what budget they had for hardware, and worked them over a number of months to build out what ended up being a really cool project.

We do what we do because this is what we love to do. This isn't--we didn't start this business, my partner and I, because we wanted to be rich. It was much more about freedom, the freedom to do the things we love to do, and this was exactly that kind of a project. It really is that kind of work where we would have done it if we were paid or not, and we weren't in this case, and that was perfectly okay. We put all at the same energy and perfectionism and creativity into this project as we would in any other, and in fact, it ended up paying back in the spades, because we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make this touchscreen that we were using as responsive as possible.

But we didn't have any libraries of the time for doing touchscreen work, but we needed the kids to be able to swipe through the timeline and add and remove frames and copy things to make it very, very easy. So we gained all this experience for working with touchscreens and raw touch events to make really a compelling experience, and then when we worked on one of our next projects, the kids reader for the Barnes & Noble NOOK Color, we were able to take all of that knowledge and immediately apply it for the exact same audience.

It's exactly for kids, so we knew what worked, what didn't. We had a good idea of how to control these touch events. So it ended up being a great project for the client. Our friend over at the Smithsonian absolutely loved it, and the first day it was out, it was an immediate huge hit. They had an open house for their educational outreach program the day after we installed it, and it was busy the entire day. Kids were playing with it the whole day long.

When I first saw the photos of it, I was so happy and showed them all to the team, and it was a wonderful experience. But then even beyond that, just what we learned from doing the project, it ended up just being absolutely perfect, and it's a big reason why we are always trying to do that kind of work. We just find work that fits in with our team, that fits in with the way we work, the technologies we are interested in, and we go and work on them. Pro bono or not, it really is just about the passion we have for the project, more than anything else.

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