One of the very first recipients of the BEQUAL Education Innovation Fund is Clay House Studio, a local Lao film making and animation company. Their project combines educational animation films and learning materials to motivate children to go to school and participate more. While the accompanying student books and teacher guides will be used in six pilot schools in Attapeu and Saravan Provinces, the clay animation videos, Learn Together, will be screened on Lao National television from June 10thon. All children in Laos, along with their parents, can discover the adventures of Ai Deng, the wise red dog and his two friends, Puna, the clever ethnic girl and Santi, the boy living in a tree house with his grandpa. In the different episodes of Learn Together, children will hear stories about the importance of going to school, making friends and helping each other. They will learn about protecting the environment, road safety, health, nutrition, safe and unsafe water, telling the time and many other interesting topics.
Mr Souliya Phoumivong is a teacher at the Department of Communication Design at the National Institute of Fine Arts and is the founder of the Clay House Studio and is the artist behind Learn Together. “Clay animation is a kind of art and it’s fascinating. But putting together a clay animation production is not easy and the work requires great patience and care. First you start with writing the story. I collaborated with the Research Institute for Educational Sciences and the Department of Mass Media. We used the national curriculum for grade 1 and 2 and selected the most important topics for young learners. This is the most difficult and longest stage: getting a good story that will sparkle the interest of young students. Giving life to the curriculum It took us nearly two years and many rewritings to get a script we were all satisfied with.”
“The most exciting part of the project was the creation of the characters and the atmosphere. With the team, we made several field trips to meet the children and the teachers, get their ideas and impressions. We showed them our first sketches, and recently the first edits of the animation movies. We wanted to have characters adapted to the taste of our audience; characters that they willlove straight away and listen to. While in Northern Laos elephants and buffalos are famous, the children from the Southern regions wanted a dog or a cat as the main hero. This is how Ai Deng was born. I created the sets from sketches we made when travelling to the South. The costumes, the background, the houses, the plants, the trees… they are what you can really find in Southern Laos.”
There are six other people working with Souliya in the studio. All together they have created eight complete sets and hundreds of clay characters and objects for theshooting of Learn Together. Souliya explains “The modelling part is magical; you mould the clay into the required shape, add the colours, and slowly your story takes life under your fingers. I modelled all the main characters myself. I created my own special dough made of rice, my secret recipe;I needed a clay strong enough for the character to stand, long lasting but also flexible to allow action and movement”.
The actual shooting part requires a lot of concentration and precision to create realistic animations. Souliya leads and supervises each production session very carefully. “Following the script, we place the characters and take photos using the stop motion technique. Then we combine the pictures to make a video with the rhythm of 15 pictures per second. Some scenes are extremely difficult because they have many characters.
The last part is the easiest with the recording of the actors who give their voices to the main characters and the live action shots. Each episode lasts around fifteen minutes and mix ‘claymation’, real acting scenes and storytelling with cartoons.
Souliya concludes “I am an artist; but I am also a teacher. I wanted to use my art to make education stronger; to help the children of my country be more knowledgeable. I would like to thank all the different partners from the Government and the BEQUAL team for supporting Learn Together since the beginning as well as for the trust they have shown in us.”