U.P. Children’s Museum instructor teaches youth creative video technique


Liam Ulland-Joy, 14, is shown learning sand animation techniques.

Story and photo by 8-18 Media

Kids love animated movies and TV shows. Some of the biggest blockbusters recently have been animated: The Lego Movie series, Ralph Breaks the Internet and The Incredibles 2, to name a few. Most kids, after they see movies such as these, are often struck with the desire to create their own animated films. However, since most kids don’t have access to blockbuster-level budgets and high-end technology, the dream generally seems out of reach.
Cut to Denise Owens, a Marquette resident who teaches classes at WOW Animation at the U.P. Children’s Museum. Her goal is to offer classes in sand animation and cut-out animation to local kids at an affordable price.
Owens studied animation in Los Angeles at the American Animation Institute and Santa Monica Community College. She also worked one season on an animated show that runs on Cartoon Network called Robot Chicken. Robot Chicken uses toys, dolls and action figures to parody pop culture (and it’s geared for adults).
Owens wanted to teach sand animation classes after discovering sand animation online.
“I have been doing some other stop motion animation classes like Lego and clay animation and cut-out animation, and you know, I stumbled upon some animation on the internet using sand that I thought was really beautiful and I wanted to do something different than what we had done before, a different type of animation,” Owens said.
Owens explained what a typical sand animation class will be like.
“We’ll talk about animation. I give some demonstrations on what sand animation is so we will go on the internet and I’ll show the kids examples and we’ll talk about that, and we’ll talk about the animation process a bit.”
The kids will have the opportunity to use high-end, industry-level animation software.
“I’ll give a demo on how it works and how you do it with the animation program which is called Dragon Frame,” Owens said. “Dragon Frame is actually a really well-known software that they use in the animation industry, so it’s pretty great because the kids are actually learning a program that is used by animation companies. It’s a really good experience for them, so not only are they having fun with it and learning the process of animation, but they are learning software that they can definitely use when they get out of school,” said Owens.
Not only is she offering kids the opportunity to use some advanced software, another one of her goals is to help kids in a bigger way.
“I would like for them to gain confidence, that’s a big one. Just have fun with the process and use their imagination and creativity,” Owens said. “With the younger kids, I actually read that sand animation is great for developing motor skills and it’s actually really helpful if they have learning disabilities. It helps them gain confidence.”
Sand Animation is not only new to this area; it is also newer to Owens. She described the process of constructing the special light boxes that she needed for her upcoming sand animation classes.
“I had to figure out how to make these light boxes, and that took awhile. They are really expensive to buy, so I was trying to figure out how to do that. I looked online to look at the process and I had the museum’s exhibits guy make one for me, but then I found that online people were saying that it’s a lot better to use glass and I believe it because what happens with the Plexiglas is it attracts static, so pretty soon the sand gravitates towards each other and creates a lot of static,” Owens explained.
“I had a person lined up to make another with glass and then he moved to Seattle and I was like, ‘I don’t know, can I do this? Yeah. Ok. Let’s figure it out!’ So I actually made one myself, and I had a little bit of help with the electrical work inside because you had to take a light strip like you buy at the hardware store and connect it to a switch so it had to be kind of manipulated. I cut it all out and put the handles on it and stuff, so that was kind of cool that I learned how to do that.”One of the biggest challenges of introducing new classes like sand animation is getting the word out to the public. Owens plans on putting flyers into the area’s elementary schools and also taking advantage of social media networking to inform people of upcoming class schedules.
Looking into the future, Owens has set some goals for her classes: get better equipment, and add even more classes that all kids are able to attend. She explained what types of classes she would like to offer as her program grows.
“We also will probably in the future have some more like mommy-and-me type of classes,” Owens said. “I think it’s really important for everybody to have the opportunity to do it, and I think there are some kids that can’t afford it, and I would love to find a way to set up a scholarship and go for some grants.”
Starting in February 2019, Owens will be offering two animation classes: sand animation and cut-out animation. Students will make videos come alive using either sand or paper cut-out animation techniques. Videos will then be posted on YouTube for all to see. Sand animation classes start on Tuesday, February 12 and run through March 19 from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. The cut-out class will run on Wednesdays, from February 13 through March 20 from 5 p.m. -6:15 p.m.
The classes are recommended for kids aged 5-12, and a $65 class fee covers materials and equipment. To register, call the museum at 906-226-3911. For questions, contact
For upcoming WOW Animation programming visit
Written by: Liam Ulland-Joy, 14, with contributions by Anna Martinson, 14; Bria Larson, 12; and Georgia Hummell, 11.

This regular feature is produced by kids ages eight to eighteen in the 8-18 Media news bureau in Marquette. Our mission is to empower youth by giving them a significant voice. We report on youth issues that are of interest to all ages. In addition to stories in Marquette Monthly, we produce stories broadcast at 8:30 a.m. and 6:50 p.m. on Fridays on WMQT-Q107 Radio and at 9:34 a.m. on Sundays on WNMU Public Radio 90. We thank the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development for its continued support. If you have a story idea or would like to comment on our work, contact us at 8-18 Media, 123 West Baraga Avenue, Marquette, MI 49855, call 226-3911 ext. 107, e-mail or visit

8-18 Media is a program of the U.P. Children’s Museum

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