Pacific Scoop

Educational animations on a budget

Press Release – Nelson Media Agency

Nelson IT expert John Herd has just completed a 30-minute educational animation for a Vanuatu NGO and believes the concept has big potential as a learning resource in schools.Educational animations on a budget

Nelson IT expert John Herd has just completed a 30-minute educational animation for a Vanuatu NGO – and believes the concept has big potential as a learning resource in schools.

“My partner Alison and I spent nine years in Vanuatu and both had assignments at Wan Smolbag Theatre through Volunteer Service Abroad,” John says. “My role was as an IT advisor and I was amazed at the range of educational activities that WSB undertakes, from travelling stage plays to movies and TV soap operas, with one of their shows, Love Patrol, screening regularly on Maori TV.

“Part of my role was to provide computer training to unemployed youth, and while I was looking at some creative applications I could teach them, I stumbled on a very affordable 3D animation software called Moviestorm.”

Moviestorm is a ‘virtual movie studio’ of prebuilt costumes, props and animations, and a functionality for the production of 3D animations. The software is an offshoot of the ‘Machinima’ movement, which sprang up when players of ‘First Person Shooter’ computer games developed methods of recording their game play to show to their friends. They started to find ways to bypass the games’ logic and stage their own scenarios. One group even developed this approach to produce a sci-fi comedy that is now in its tenth season on YouTube.

During John’s assignment Wan Smolbag produced a series of radio plays based around the importance of numeracy and literacy, with plotlines relevant to the local population.

“It occurred to me that producing an animated version of one of these shows would provide another useful teaching resource, and also test the potential of the software as another production tool for WSB’s future work,” he says. “You only need to look at the huge numbers of skilled people involved in mainstream animations to imagine the costs involved. But although we are not talking Pixar quality quite yet (although that day is not as far off as it may seem), affordable software like Moviestorm with its shallow learning curve allows a very small team or even an individual to produce a perfectly acceptable product which can meet a real need in education, and not just in developing countries.”

It is a recognised fact that people learn better when using tools appropriate to their own culture and context, so one hurdle to be overcome was the production of localized versions of the software’s western-focused clothing, props and buildings. John used his 3D virtual modelling skills to reproduce a recognizably Vanuatu setting for the storyline.

John is passionate about the potential of computer animation: “Education is the fundamental underpinning of any society,” he says. “It empowers people and makes real change in their lives. By using new technologies like this in innovative ways, we can help accelerate and distribute knowledge more quickly and more widely without having to break the bank.”

Wan Smolbag is Bislama (Vanuatu’s common language) for One Small Bag, as the theatre group (which now employs 100 people) used to travel the islands with just one small bag of props.

You can check out a short clip from the literacy animation at


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