story and photos by Kayte Deioma
It’s rare to find a venue that can hold the attention of the younger kids in the family and the teenagers at the same time. The Zeum in San Francisco does this brilliantly and mom and dad can get in on the act too. Billed as a multimedia arts and technology museum, Zeum gets everyone’s creative juices flowing with opportunities to learn about video production and animation by creating your own productions from scratch using all the professional tools of the trade.
In the Main Gallery, you can get a quick idea how green backgrounds help create special effects in the Special FX area. After choosing an exciting video background like crashing waves or flames, you slide down a green sliding board and watch as the TV screen shows you sliding through the waves or the flames. This can keep little kids occupied for a good long time and give big kids a taste for creating a more elaborate production they can take home.
The rest of the Main Gallery has the components of a live Video Production on one side of the room and basic elements of animation on the other side. To produce a short video you can pick your own starting point. Some people like to get right to the heart of the matter by typing a script into the teleprompter, so they know what kind of costumes to look for when they head to wardrobe. Others like to start in the wardrobe department to see what characters they can create and then write them a suitable storyline. There are costumes for young children up to adults, so the whole family can get involved. If you’d like to make a horror film, you can settle into the mask-making department and create your own masks.
No film is complete without its musical soundtrack. You can compose yours in the Sound Lab. You don’t have to be working on a video project to use the Sound Lab. You can also use it to compose a song to perform, or to take home with you.
Once you have your story, wardrobe and soundtrack, you’re ready to choose your background and act out your script on the green background. If there are enough of you, someone can operate the camera and choose the camera angles at the Tech Table; otherwise the staff technician will do that for you. For a small donation, your video production will be saved onto a DVD for you to take home.
As you can imagine, creating all those elements can take a while, so you could divide up the tasks and have one person writing the script while another works on the music. Technical advisors are always around with suggestions to get you started.
On the other side of the Main Gallery are several Animation Stations where you can create simple animations by moving objects around on a white table and taking photos of them with a camera mounted above or in front of the table. Another station is stocked with plastic dinosaurs and other creatures that you can use to create an animation. All of these animationprojects follow the same principle of using a series of still photographs of objects in different positions to create the impression of motion.
Next door in the Animators Studioyou learn about clay animation. Here again you have an opportunity to create a storyline, choose a pre-constructed set and create your own clay figures to shoot with stop-action video and a computer. You can take the clay figures and the animation DVD you create home with you.
The MetaField Maze
You could spend all day and never leave the primary production areas downstairs, but there’s more to do upstairs. The stairway circles around the Roundabout, where you’ll find the MetaField Maze, a virtual board game projected on the floor. You use your weight to tip the virtual play board and move a marble of light around the maze without letting it fall into a black hole. Tip: It helps to read the directions.
Upstairs you’ll find the Music Production Lab, where you can sing along karaoke-style to your favorite songs from Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to pop favorites. Again you can don costumes, choose your digital background and take your music video home with you.
The Digital Studio, where you can learn about photo manipulation, was closed on our visit, but a Build a ‘Bot Workshop was going on in the classroom next door. Artist and robot inventor Simone Davalos demonstrated how to build a robot that would mix syrup and carbonated water to make soda. Kids and adults were fascinated with her demonstration of computer programming using the process of making a peanut butter sandwich to illustrate how to give a robot instructions.
The 100-year-old Zeum Carousel, built in 1906 spent time in Seattle, New Mexico and 15 years in Long Beach, CA before returning to San Francisco in 1998. Its giraffes, camels, goats and horses have all been meticulously restored and look like new. One ticket will get you two rides on the merry-go-round.
Outside the main Zeum tower, the Gift Shop offers an interesting variety of creative toys, games and books. The Zeum Café has snacks to feed the budding creative genius. If you’re looking for more of a selection, there are a few other fast food places nearby.
221 Fourth Street
(at Howard Street next to the Moscone Center)
San Francisco, CA 94103