Guest Blog Post: PopMaster Fabel on Creating and Dancing in Scratch

Legendary hip-hop dance pioneer PopMaster Fabel recently joined us for our weekend workshop on President’s Day in which students from our RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp learned how to use MIT’s Scratch programming language to code a dance animation. The workshop was a part of PAA’s partnership with the Scratch Team. Read more about the partnership here. Below are PopMaster Fabel’s reflections on participating in the process and creating his own dance animation.

PAA students with hip-hop dance pioneer Popmaster Fabel during a recent workshop in which students learned how to use Scratch to code dance animations. Photo by Jared Akerstrom.

PAA students with hip-hop dance pioneer PopMaster Fabel during a recent workshop in which students learned how to use Scratch to code dance animations. Photo by Jared Akerstrom.

The first challenge in producing a Scratch project was thinking of a concept that could be effectively executed with the tools and templates provided. After seeing samples of what can be done, the possibilities seemed endless, hence opening the floodgates to creative thinking and processing. I instantly thought of a few concepts that might effectively illustrate the magic and wonder of Scratch. Some were very elaborate while others seemed simple yet effective. I chose to go with one I was already very familiar with, The Puppet. It was a performance piece I created with my first dance partner, Mr. Wiggles, where he was the puppet and I was the puppet master. In this case, I was both characters for the first time ever. This was an exciting thought and possibility!

Here is a clip of me and Mr. Wiggles performing The Puppet:

Storyboard for PopMaster Fabel's dance animation in Scratch.

Storyboard for PopMaster Fabel’s dance animation in Scratch.

Transferring the ideas onto a storyboard was the next challenge. The creative process warranted careful consideration of the series of still images and positions that were to be photographed and sequenced. The interaction between puppet and puppet master consists of a series of movements that needed to be precise in order to pull off the effect. This challenged me to think of the simplest equation that would still be effective and contain the essence, mechanics and functionality of the performance piece. This process challenged my way of conceptualizing movement since dance choreography isn’t usually storyboarded or prearranged with notations. I was forced to get my point across in the simplest terms yet remain creatively entertaining. A true example of how less can be more.

Popmaster Fabel shares his storyboard with students during our recent workshop with the Scratch team.

PopMaster Fabel shares his storyboard with students during our recent Scratch workshop.

The final challenge was learning how to sequence and manipulate the images with the Scratch interface. The use of layers, backgrounds, audio files, sizing, speed, etc opened doors to an infinite amount of possibilities. Although my knowledge of video editing gave me somewhat of an advantage, I still had to get acquainted with a new programming system. For the most part, creating an animation in Scratch was mostly based on experiential learning. We were given the tools, taught how to use them and the rest was based on trial and error. In my opinion, this is one of the best ways to learn how to navigate through any software and/or computer application. Hands on. Big fun!

Fabel and Team

PopMaster Fabel (right) works with PAA artist Jared Akerstrom (left) and Eric Schilling from the MIT Media Lab coding his dance animation in Scratch.

Watching the animation come together was absolutely magical! It was as if we were breathing life into inanimate objects. Every aspect of the process brought about a thrill and sense of achievement, from adding the background and music to sequencing the images and finally bringing it all together. The experience was self-empowering and leveled the playing field on an artistic platform. Just about anyone who follows good direction and enjoys being creative can have a wonderful experience with Scratch.

Click the image to view PopMaster Fabel's animation he created as part of our Scratch workshop experience.

Click the image to view PopMaster Fabel’s animation he created as part of our Scratch workshop.

What excited me about the students’ animations were their brilliant concepts and creative thinking. Their ideas all varied in themes and were extremely unique. See their animations by clicking here. Some of them seemed to transform themselves into cyber super heroes while others created new dimensions and characters in time and space. The students truly enjoyed the experience and their level of achievement was contagious and much appreciated. It made me wonder, what if this system was used to teach subjects in schools? Would the “edutainment” factor in Scratch add motivation and artistic flavor to the presently stale approach to lesson plans and curricula? If you ask me, the answer is YES! The Scratch project can help revolutionize the teaching methods used in schools and learning institutions. Scratch can be the wave of our educational future and I’m honored to have been able to surf that tide!

It’s more fun to compute!
Jorge “PopMaster Fabel” Pabon

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