Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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November 2007, Week 1    

STOP-MOTION PHOTOGRAPHY

Claymation Studio is a $40 program that lets you link shots taken with any digital camera into an animated video. The results are surprising.

Claymation has become kind of a catchword for stop-motion photography, but initially referred to using just figures made from clay. The characters and scenery are modeled from colored clay, and each movement requires either Wallace and Gromit repositioning the figures or changing their expression. Do enough of these and you can put together a short movie, frame by frame. The process is incredibly time-consuming, but the final effects are unlimited. Outstanding examples are the movies "Chicken Run" and "Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

You don't have to use clay figures. Claymation Studio lets you easily connect still pictures of just about anything into a continuous animation. We used a tripod-mounted camera taking single shots of a plastic duck and a banana, for example, and had the little critter appear to race toward the fruit and then jump up and dance on it.

This is pretty stupid-sounding stuff, but it echoes what the teenage Ray Harryhausen did many years ago in stringing together single shots to make scenes that ultimately became major motion pictures. He used two toy plastic dinosaurs and by moving them slightly for each shot, made them appear to be fighting. He later was instrumental in creating the full-length movies "Mighty Joe Young," "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" and "Jason and the Argonauts." A single scene of five actors fighting a group of skeleton warriors in "Jason" took four months to complete. Actor Tom Hanks told Harryhausen he thought it was the greatest movie ever made.

You can do a movie this way, and if you have the patience, it's fun. Claymation Studio is a good starting program and can take the ambitious producer a long way. Tech support is free, which is a good thing because the instructions are almost nonexistent. A more complete program is the more expensive StopMotionPro, which sells in versions from $70 to $595 at StopMotionPro.com. Claymation is from Honestech.com .

THE WRITE STUFF

Helium.com  is a new site that encourages writers to comment on controversial issues of the day and/or write for payment. The site has different sections: Debates, Marketplace, Contests, etc. The Marketplace section has assignments for short articles, with payments ranging from less than $10 to Helium.com more than $200. Helium takes some of that price if the article is accepted, and the writer gets the rest. Lots of travel commentary is sought. For example, one site is offering $125 for an article about Kissimmee, Fla.

It sort of creates a brokerage for freelance writing, an idea whose time perhaps has come. Other sections of the Web site raise our collective eyebrows. For instance, prize money is offered for the best articles, ranked by registered users. This lays it wide open to people getting lots of votes from their church group, schools, etc.

AND NOW, TO A GREAT AND WONDERFUL GUY ...

Tribbit.com  is a new site for posting tributes. You (meaning anyone) initiate a tribute by uploading a photo and choosing a theme. It can be someone's birthday, or a graduation, for example. Or it can be anything: There's a tribute to the Beatles, for instance, which includes music, videos and some interesting commentary from Beatles fans.

It's like an online card that just keeps growing, as people on your e-mail list add Beatlestheir photos, video clips and comments. As it now stands, anyone can comment. For instance, Olivia, who we don't know from Adam, as they say, was having a 28th birthday, and we sent her a nice congratulation and a YouTube video of three space-suited aliens singing "Happy Birthday."

Having an open field is kind of dangerous, however, since not everyone is of a bright and cheerful mien. So we talked to the site hosts and they said they would try to program in some privacy.

EDUCATION

After a pause of 25 years, we decided to revisit Knowledge Adventure's JumpStart education programs for young children. We half expected the same old stuff we saw back then, but things have, in fact, been updated. The graphics are good, the education is good, and you can color us happy about the wholeJumpstartworld set.

We particularly liked the world you walked around in as you discovered things in JumpStart World for kindergarten ages. The next two programs cover first and second grades. All are $20 from JumpStartWorld.com. There's a free trial.

IN THE ZONE ALARM

ZoneAlarm is a famous program for guarding you from spyware, hijacking and being tracked as you browse the Web. There's a free version of the basic program at download.com, or you can try out the new free beta version of ZoneAlarm ForceField. ForceField creates a virtual bubble (like the Cone of Silence in the old "Get Smart" TV series) that protects the user against so-called drive-by spyware and key loggers. The final version of ForceField is expected to retail for $30. More details at ZoneAlarm.com .

BOOK

"The Artist's Guide to GIMP Effects," by Michael Hammel; $45 from NoStarch.com. GIMP is a free photo-editing program for Windows. It competes with Photoshop with its many powerful features, and of course has Gimp Effectsthe advantage of being free. Versions are available for Windows and Macintosh at download.com and for Linux at gimp.org. Each chapter of this book is a tutorial on how to create some special effect.


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