Master Builders

Weta isn’t the only animation powerhouse on the peninsula.  Twenty-four master builders spent the term animating at Rata Studios this term.  They used their skills to build fantastic sets and create amusing stories using LEGO bricks.


Though the medium of LEGO is relatively new, stop motion animation is nearly as old as filmmaking itself.  The technique requires animators to take many photos, with minimal changes in action between each one.  Though students spent three to four sessions perfecting their final animations, the longest one was only a minute long.   Just imagine how many days and months it must take to create a feature length animation!  The art form certainly takes dedication.

Students certainly learned patience as well as teamwork.  It takes both an animator and someone on the computer watching what is happening in real-time and capturing photos to make an animation great.

Next term the animation adventure at Rata Studios continues with Clay Animation.

Leveling Up!

Game Design Adventures students Leveled Up this term with more coding, more interactivity, and more teamwork! Hunter was most surprised at how he could use web cameras to add an element of interactivity to his Scratch games.


Working together to de-bug code

Once they learned how to create interactive games and quiz games, use clones, and other cool skills students paired up to develop a series of games that used similar elements and artwork. This involved creating a background story for each group.

Pac Man

Giant Pac-Man takes over the city.
Luka’s Animation Intro
Ben’s Space Invaders vs Pac Man
Hunter’s Boss Battle

Spy Game

Shadow the evil agents are trying to take all the food away.  Shine has to stop them before it is too late!
Eva’s Code Breaker
Connor’s Dark Alley Donuts


Testing Processing code

Nearly everyone’s favourite part of the course was Processing, a text-based coding language based on the popular Java. The last two classes we programmed a drawing application that enables the user to colour with their mouse (or finger on a touch-screen) and save their artwork to a jpg.

They really enjoyed Processing because “it’s fun to work it out and not just let the teacher tell you (what to do).” On the first Processing session Luka figured out a variable for randomizing colours and explained it to the rest of the class.  When trying to replicate his instructions, Connor accidentally put random on the shape of his rectangle. When he tried to play his game he quickly realised that the the values he made random must control the x and y positions of the shape based upon the way they moved.  Though the application looks different skills and concepts learnt in Scratch transferred over to text-based coding.

We will be back in Term 4 with Recycled Robots, until then students who have not yet taken an introductory code class or want to brush up on their skills can enrol in Girl Powered Programming at Rata Studios.

Space Gardens

The Space Place is looking a whole lot greener after the Space Garden holiday programme!  Student’s discovered the challenges and successes astronauts have encountered growing plants on the International Space Station.  Then they created their own terrariums to take home.

A terrariums is a closed, self-watering Exif_JPEG_420ecosystem, but that doesn’t mean you can stop caring for your plant.   It needs to be kept out of direct sunlight and observed on a regular basis to make sure it’s not too dry or too moist.

The astronauts on the International Space Station also learned that they couldn’t just automate the care of their plants.  They needed to observe the growth of their plants and adjust the moisture and sunlight accordingly to keep their plants happy and healthy.   Students can use this observation log or make one of their own to record any changes in their plants.

Once gardens were planted we took a trip down to the Begonia House which is just like a giant terrarium.   Botanical Garden staff showed us heaps of cool plants, from banana trees, to flowers that look like black-bats, and air plants that live in trees, not soil.   We even got to sniff a carnivorous plant that smelled like dirty socks!

Subscribe to the MakerBox newsletter or follow the Space Place on Facebook to get updates on our next holiday programme at the Space Place.  In July we will have kids looking to the stars as they create their own light-up constellations.


Adventuring Forth

Living in this increasingly digital world we all benefit from programming every day, often without noticing.  Whether we are playing a video game or paying a bill with online banking, code is all around us.  Knowing how to code can allow a person to unleash their creativity as they create new worlds and imagine a better one for us all.


Creative controllers with bananas and the MaKey MaKey

Students in Game Design Adventures this term did just that by creating unique video games using Scratch, a visual programming language.   Programming incorporates many maths and logic concepts and our students learned heaps, from the real world application of variables, to placing objects using X&Y coordinates, and using operators such as less than and greater than.

Programming also requires quite a bit of creative problem solving.  Though are many ways to achieve the same result, there are other times when nothing seems to work.  Far more important than knowing the correct answer is knowing how to troubleshoot to find answers when you’re stuck.


Helping each other with tricky code

Mistakes will happen, it’s inevitable, but student’s learned to first take a deep breath and look over their work, then ask a friend for help.  By adding more minds to the problem, they could often figure out the answer together without adult intervention.  The final step is to ask the teacher for a hand.  There were some real stars in this course who would offer up advice when a classmate became stuck, carefully describing the steps as the person they were helping manipulated the code.  We are all teachers here.

But don’t just take my word for it, not only can you play the games created in class, you can also click “See Inside” on any of the projects to see the code that makes it work.   View all of our games at our Scratch studio.


If your child has ever taken Game Design Adventures, Intro to Video Game Programming, or is in Year 6 or Year 7 at Scots College they can enrol in Game Design: Level Up for Term 2.

We are also offering Girl Powered Programming, a new programming course that focuses on powerful female programmers as students learn coding basics with Scratch.

Mixed Media Animation

Though most people know me for my programming and robotics courses I actually have a degree in Film and Video Production.  My very first teaching experiences were stop-animation summer camps for kids.  When you have been doing something for a long period of time it becomes a bit routine, you don’t get excited about it the way you once did.
Mixed Media Animation made teaching stop-motion animation exciting again.  This was the first time I decided to focus on different animators and their techniques each session.  As Zach said in the animation show introduction, ‘We learned many styles of animation, such as cut paper, magazine cutouts, and clay.”  It was also the first time I allowed my students to choose the medium for their final animations.  It was amazing seeing the kids connect with specific artists and styles and incorporating that into their own work.

My favourite part of the course was the claymation, I love morphing the clay.

       – Shea

The classroom culture in this course was also the best yet, everyone worked together to keep the sessions running smoothly.   Students arriving early would often volunteer to help me set up the animation stations and everyone took an active role in cleaning up at the end.  During animating time there was excellent communication and collaboration between team members.   It’s difficult to animate, you need to make sure not to move objects too much between each picture and you need to avoid taking pictures of hands.  It helps to have a reliable team-member to focus on the larger animation while you focus on animating individual pieces.

At this point I have been teaching some students for a year now, it has been absolutely amazing watching them grow, both in their skills as creators and as people.   I can’t wait to see what they will make next!

If you are interested in enroling your child in an animation course for Term 2 we have opened up a second session of Lego Animation on Wednesday evenings.   Learn more…

Make the Impossible Possible

At MakerBox we strongly believe that kids should be able to create their own worlds and imagine a better future for us all.   After finding a lack of stop-motion animation software for Linux, the MakerBox team decided to do a little creating of our own.  After a summer of intense coding we are proud to unleash StopGo, open-source animation software for Linux and Windows.

StopGo enables animators to easily capture images and assemble them into a video.  We have purposefully kept the features light so budding animators can focus on creating compelling stories.  All you need to get started is a webcam and a computer.


StopGo features onion-skinning, instant playback, the ability to delete previous frames, and automatic save so you never lose your masterpiece again.

Perhaps the best feature of StopGo is it’s Open Source code.  StopGo is built using Python and VLC, anyone can contribute to the code on GitHub.  If there is a feature you’d like to see or a bug that needs fixed, let us know or do it yourself!

Not only do you have the freedom to make StopGo the animation software of your dreams, it also comes with zero cost.  We want everyone to be able to achieve their artistic vision without being bound by financial constraints.

Start animating today, download StopGo at










Sun Spectacular!

We’ve been baking up a storm at the Space Place this week with our home-made solar ovens.   Solar ovens come in all shapes and sizes, but ours are made out of cardboard boxes, aluminium foil, and plastic wrap.   All things most people already have lying around the house, making them highly affordable for everyone.

In places where electricity is not readily available people use solar ovens for most their cooking.  In one Kenyan village a group of woman have even started their own bakery, making cakes and cupcakes to sell.  On a good day they can bake over 100 cupcakes in their solar oven!  Here in New Zealand solar cookers can be useful in the event of a natural disaster or if the power goes out for a long period of time.  They can also be quite convenient when it’s hot outside and you don’t feel like turning on the oven!

There are many factors that influence how well a solar oven cooks.  As we learned on the very first day of class, solar ovens aren’t nearly as useful on rainy days!   Cooking time is also doubled when compared to using a conventional oven.   Our solar ovens only got up to 50° C, but we put them out after noon so we missed the sun when it was at it’s highest point in the sky.  Solar ovens never get as hot as conventional ovens, instead they cook over a long period of time at moderate temperatures.

Solar Ovens


When using a solar oven it’s best to start early in the day so you are cooking when the sun is highest in the sky.  During New Zealand summer 9am – 2pm is prime cooking time.  Adjust the reflector flap so it is directing sunlight down into your oven window.  You may need to move your oven periodically as the sun moves across the sky.  Cupcakes will take at least two hours to bake on a sunny day.

Remember to always place your food in a black cooking vessel.  If you don’t have a black cooking vessel, wrap black paper around the cooking vessel you do have.   Black absorbs heat, whereas lighter colours, such as white, reflect it.   This heat absorption will help your cupcake cook!  For added heat retention, place your cupcake inside an oven bag.

Make sure your oven window is shut completely.  You can add some masking tape around the edges to ensure no heat escapes during cooking.

Students were sent home with recipe sheets filled with more goodies to try in their own solar cookers.

Try experimenting with your box design.

  • Will it work better with one reflector flap, or four?  
  • What would happen if you covered the entire inside of your oven with black paper instead of aluminium foil?  
  • What other types of reflective surface could you use instead of aluminium foil?  

If you have an awesome solar oven design, idea, or tip let us know in the comments!