I begin my first creative DS106 post with this teaser … “What do René Descartes, Neil Diamond, Alan Levine, the cartoon characters Popeye, and Dr. Seuss’ Sam-I-am, all have in common?” I plan to answer this question while demonstrating how students can become actively engaged in learning through the use of creative projects.
What do René Descartes, Neil Diamond, Alan Levine, the cartoon characters Popeye, and Dr. Seuss' Sam-I-am, all have in common?
Today marks the official start for the first day of “classes” of the Digital Storytelling (DS106) course offered on line from Mary Washington University in Virginia. Over the past month, there has been an infective frenzy surrounding the DS106 website as participants enrolled and linked feeds from their individual blogs where they would document and reflect on their learning journey. Excitement was “kicked up a notch” as DS106 instructors, facilitators, and former online students shared posts to stimulate creativity and dialogue. I am delighted that Alan Levine, aka “CogDog”, is officially teaching a section of DS106 this term. As many of you know, Alan is a very prolific writer and mentor to educators with his famous CogDogBlog and his engaging 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story resource.
Through his engaging blog posts, Alan has been stimulating potential DS106 participants to start thinking in a creative manner. Some might consider Alan’s ideas to be somewhat “off the wall”, but rest-assured, when Alan writes about a creative element, he not only “talks the talk … he walks the walk”. This can be witnessed when one considers his recent “yamming it up” posts in which he has challenged the DS106 community to create images using pictures of yams (sometimes called, sweet potatoes). The following three posts demonstrate both Alan’s infectious creativity and his willingness to share:
When I read Alan’s yam-related challenges, I immediately thought of the cartoon character Popeye, whose favourite expression was “I yam what I yam”. This phrase then led me to research other famous “individuals”, who were known for their quotations that began with “I am …”. Naturally, I morphed such quotes, like Popeye’s, into “I yam …”.
The Learning Curve
I began searching the Internet for a few images of individuals whose quotations I might consider. Whenever I located a potential character, I not only saved a copy of the image, I also saved the related URL for proper credit. From experience, I know how much time one can waste when one tries to once again locate the source of an image after-the-fact. Next, I had to search for images of sweet-potatoes or yams that I might use in this creative project.
Although I own Photoshop Elements 6, I must admit that I find it somewhat difficult to use. Furthermore, since I don’t use this software on a regular basis, I often forget how to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. For example, I keep a print-out in my top desk drawer of the steps required to make an image’s background transparent because I have yet to internalize the process.
From an educator’s point-of-view, I can assure you that real learning takes place when one works with the Photoshop Elements (PSE) application. For example, as someone who feels somewhat comfortable using Windows “Paint”, I keep forgetting that in PSE one can be working on different layers and that the stacking order has a definite impact on the resulting image. However, I have started using the PSE “Help” menu, searched Google for specific tutorials, and watched YouTube videos where “kids”, a quarter of my age, demonstrate their PSE talents in somewhat speedy displays. However, I am slowly learning and the repetition and practice, provided in this creative activity, have given me confidence to utilize an application like Photoshop Elements, which in my humble opinion is less than intuitive.
I will purposely display the characters in the order that I created them so that you can perhaps see my progress and hopefully see my improvements. Following Alan Levine’s posting technique, I will share with you some techniques that I employed in creating my famous “yam” remixes.
As indicated earlier, Popeye’s famous statement “I yam what I yam” was the catalyst that started my first DS106 creative endeavour. I first converted my selection of yam images to ones with transparent backgrounds. I then loaded the Popeye cartoon character and deleted his head (losing his pipe in the process). I then found that, in PSE, I could not simply drag the new yam head into position on top of the Popeye body. Rather I had to use <Ctrl-A> to “Select All” the yam, copy and paste it on top of Popeye’s body and, finally, resize and position it. Next, I had to search for a corn-cob pipe which I had to resize, rotate, and place appropriately. I then saved my “creation” as both a Photoshop file (for possible later edits) and a corresponding PNG image which I inserted into a PowerPoint slide. Although I am sure there is a way to create speech/thought bubbles in PSE, I find it easy in PowerPoint to Insert => Shapes => Callouts and then layer a text box to include “I yam what I yam” over top. To save the final image, I select PowerPoint’s Save As => Other Formats menus, but rather than use the default “Save As Type” entry to save the “PowerPoint Presentation (*.ppt) or (*.pptx)” formatted file, I click the “down arrow” and scroll down to select either “JPEG File Interchange Format (*.jpg)” or “PNG Portable Network Graphics Format (*.png)”. Once an appropriate filename has been entered and the “Save” button clicked, I normally choose the “Current Slide Only” to save this creation. I then use IrfanView, a popular Windows freeware product, to crop and/or resize the image as required.
My second remix involved Dr. Seuss’ lovable creature “Sam-I-am”. Since Sam-I-am’s regular facial features were black on a white, I used PSE’s “Magic Wand” tool to select only eyes, brows, nose and mouth, which I saved as a “Face” layer with a transparent background. Next, I copied and pasted my transparent yam and layered it right over top of the existing head. Then, I positioned the “Face” layer on top and added, pixel by pixel using the Pencil Tool, a little brown colour to the whiskers.
To alter Sam’s sign, I began by reviewing a variety of PSE fonts. Since the sign was wide enough, I could cut out the “am” and move it to he right. I then inserted a new “y”, using the “Hobo Std” font, that I thought was appropriate and saved the resulting remixed image.
I used two album covers in this Neil Diamond remix. For my yam selection, I located a “sweet potato” costume image, from which I deleted the arms and legs, and saved the result as “Face.png” with a transparent background.
I opened the black album cover image in PSE and duplicated this background layer. Once the duplicate was positioned on top, I deleted the original background layer. Next I selected PSE’s “Polygonal Lasso Tool” (in hindsight, perhaps, the Magnetic Lasso Tool” might have been a better choice). I then used this lasso tool to trace around the head, neckline and microphone and removed it from the image. I used <Ctrl-A> to select all of the “Face.png” image, copied and pasted it on top of the guitar player. I then resized and rotated the “Face” and then positioned it at the bottom of the stacking layers so it would show through the previous transparent “head opening”. I have developed the habit of saving often, so I usually save my files in order as ND1.PSD, ND2.PSD, ND3.PSD, … etc. This strategy allows me to go back to a previous version should I, inadvertently, wreck my current adaptation. With this new “sweet potato” cartoon costume head, I realized that viewers might have difficulty recognizing this remixed guitar player. To help with the identification process, I copied and pasted a transparent “Neil Diamond” image from another album cover.
Knowing that I had yet to include a speech bubble, I felt that I needed more room along the left side of the image. I used PSE’s Image => Resize => Canvas Size menus and pushed the image boundary further left. When the new transparent area opened up on the left, I was able to use Eyedropper Tool to select the black of the current background and use the Paint Bucket to pour this colour in to fill the void. To complete the task, I saved the resulting image (on its wider canvas), opened it in PowerPoint, added a speech bubble, and saved the final remixed image.
I found a rather formal picture of René Descartes that I wished to use as a base.
However, it would be a challenge tracing around the textured ends of Rene’s hairstyle. I started at the top near his right eye and began tracing down past his hidden ear to the top of the collar when the selection ploygon “closed” and linked back on itself. In past, I would have used “Ctrl-Z” to undo the latest action and restart the tedious tracing process from the very beginning. However, this time I noticed that polygon closure line snapped right across Rene’s face (and did not capture any additional features) so I was able to delete what I had traced and continue with no waste of time. Once the original face was cut out, I placed my yam picture, with the wiggle eyes, below the original, duplicated background image, resized and repositioned it accordingly.
Knowing the I needed space to insert a thought bubble, I stretched the canvas to the right. However, I was not able to figure out how to transfer the “antique-like” background of the original picture into this new transparent void on the right. If, as illustrated in the image above, the background was a solid colour, I could simply sample it with the Eyedropper Tool and pour the selected colour using the Paint Bucket. I tried copying a rectangle of the original “antique-like” background and pasting it repeatedly into the transparent area on the right. Unfortunately, because there was only a small amount of original background to copy, the resulting process looked like a patchwork quilt of antique “bricks”. So it appears that I still have a few things to learn in Photoshop Elements. Perhaps some of my readers can offer suggestions in the Comments area at the end of this post as to how to extend this “antique-like” background area.
So I left Rene’s remix image as the original portrait size and opened it in PowerPoint. I resized the image by dragging down the corner of the inserted picture so that the slide filled the vertical. Not wanting to distort the image, I left the area on the right as white and inserted the Callout and Banner shapes and added appropriate text layers on top. Although one can resize speech/thought bubbles by dragging their boundary handles, one can also fine-tune this component by dragging the small “yellow diamond” to position the “tail” of the bubble appropriately. Lastly I saved only this PowerPoint slide as my remixed image.
Many of my readers will assume that I am going to end this post with a “yam” remixed image of Alan Levine. I assure you that this is not the case.
At the start of this post, I posed the question:
“What do René Descartes, Neil Diamond, Alan Levine, the cartoon characters Popeye, and Dr. Seuss’ Sam-I-am, all have in common?”
Those who have thoroughly read this post will assume that Alan is included in the above question because he was the important catalyst that motivated me to start “yamming it up”. In part, they would be true. However, this post is really a tribute, on behalf of all educators, who have benefited from Alan’s innovation and ideas. As a model mentor, Alan has so willingly shared through his wiki resources, through his keynotes, through his StoryBox-Digital Time Capsule, through his leadership in both his DS106 Digital Storytelling courses and on DS106 radio, and most of all, through his regular posts on his CogDogBlog. Most educators don’t realize that Alan created his first post on “CogDogBlog”, almost nine years ago, on April 19th, 2003! It’s even more amazing to learn the title of Alan’s first post. Do you think it might be a coincidence that it was created with a slight variation on … “I Blog Therefore I yam”?”
Take care & keep smiling
Fair Use Educational Image Credits (in order):
- Popeye – http://www.cartoonpicturess.com/popeye-cartoon
- Pipe – http://www.starcostumes.com/items/Popeye-Pipe.aspx
- Yam Head - http://kivasminiatures.blogspot.com/2010/07/yam-heads-yam-heads-not-so-rolly-polly.html
- Sam-I-am - http://whatthefrugal.blogspot.com/2010/07/summer-of-sam-i-am.html
- Yam Face - http://www.allgoogly.com/2009/01/yam-it-up/
- Neil Diamond – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Neil_Diamond_2.jpg
- Sweet Potato Costume – http://www.partywiththis.com/Sweet-Potato-Costume-p-18058.html
- Neil Diamond Text – http://www.chartstats.com/art.php?release=38793
- René Descartes - http://media.artfinder.com/works/r/bal/5/8/5/309585_full_570x658.jpg
- Yam with wiggle eyes - http://www.allgoogly.com/2009/01/yam-it-up/