RAPS: Underwater City

// Dec 2018 //

Well what a fantastic few days we had with Ramsgate Arts Primary School (RAPS) working together to build a digital underwater city.

image / Peter Barnett, Argyle Communications

RAPS champions creativity and each afternoon the kids get to develop skills in arts, including music, drama and dance. So it was a complete pleasure to help the kids be creative with computers.

We designed nine computer-based workshops so that all 220 youngsters could work together and contribute to a large-scale generative artwork which will be exhibited in Margate and Dreamland in 2019. The workshops were 35 minutes long and delivered over three afternoons at the school.

The younger kids created underwater city buildings and made digital creatures which were brought to life through sprite making, excitable motion-capture dancing and animat building. The older kids got to grips with basic computer coding and created the background to the artwork: turbulent currents; waves; and giant, brightly patterned swimming shapes. And, of course, everyone became a Squidlet.

A couple of Squidlets

The workshops:

Underwater City Buildings (4-5 yrs)
In our block-building program you select a tile and build a home. The youngest RAPS kids learnt mouse skills and created buildings. These were brought together to make the Underwater City.


Motion-Capture Dancing (4-5 yrs)
Taking their cues from multi-limbed sealife, the kids practiced and performed jelly fish, starfish and octopus. We used a simple Kinect setup to capture their movements and gave them props to better imitate sealife.


ANIMATS Creature Making (5-6 yrs)
This version of our Animats program is inspired by the red crabs of Christmas Island. The Animat makers experimented with a new set of crabby graphics and simple expanding and contracting muscles to bring their creation to life. Below is the Animat called wormy worm.


PISKEL Sprite Making (6-8 yrs)
Piskel is a free, sprite making program. It’s perfect for teaching young kids the basics of animation. They created lots of weird and wondeful critters. These can be seen parading across the bottom of the piece.


Processing Patterns  (8-11 yrs)
With the older kids we ran a variation of our beginner creative coding workshops. We taught the kids how to position basic rectangles and ellipses and to colour and size them. Then we moved on to more advanced shapes – polygons, stars, hearts and diamonds. The shapes could be made to animate across the screen using a series of pre-written motion functions including things like swim(), crawl(), wobble() and waves(). The kids also got into the spin() function which gives a great swirling action. Each kids work became subroutines in the main program so that random combinations could generate an interesting background for the work.

We’d like to thank Nick the headmaster and all the teachers and support staff for making our job so easy. We managed to put all the kids contributions together into a 12 minute film in a couple of days after the workshops and they will be showing it to the kids and parents during their Nativity celebrations and also next year. Thanks again to all the kids and we hope they enjoy what they made and are inspired to be creative with computers.

Underwater City was supported and organised by Dreamland and forms part of our ongoing digital residency. We have plans to showcase the results next year at Dreamland, Turner Contemporary and also at Margate Festival.

image / Peter Barnett, Argyle Communications