Sunday, 21 December 2014

Review - Hue Animation Studio kit

Over the last couple of weeks we've been having a lot of fun learning to use a stop animation kit from Hue Animation to make our own stop motion videos.

The Hue Animation Studio kit contains a USB camera with microphone (available in several different colours), the software that you need to install it, and a 60 page book packed with ideas and projects to start you off. Online you can find further resources to help you, including tutorials and a gallery of films created using the equipment, including all those that are featured in the book.

Hue Animation Studio kit contents

Harry is almost six years old, and I was amazed at how quickly he picked it all up. He watches a lot of stop animation videos online, and for some time he has been keen to try making some of his own. The kit was very easy to set up and install, and we found it super intuitive to use. We browsed the book for some ideas, although Harry had plenty of his own! 

Harry's first video - Treasure Food

Harry decided that his first video would feature Donald Duck looking for treasure. When you open the software, this is what you see, with two main windows. The window on the left shows the video that you've made so far and the window on the right shows what the camera can see. 

Hue Animation screenshot

This is how Harry set up for his first video. It's taken on the dining room table, with a sheet of white paper for a background. The camera head is really flexible and sturdy so you can take videos from all angles.

Stop motion animation setup

When you have set up your first shot you click the camera button on the screen, and the picture that you have taken will then appear on the left. You move your item very slightly then take another picture, and so on. Your previous image remains as a ghost image in the right hand window (you can see an example of this in my screenshot later in this post) which is really helpful as you can see how much you need to move the item. It also means that if something terrible happens and you knock the camera or your set up, you can recreate the shot easily. As you go along you can use the Play button to watch your video, and you can easily delete single or multiple shots if you make a mistake.

Hue Animation review screenshot

It's really quick and easy to do and Harry managed with ease! Once you have made your video you can add sound which is also really easy. To record your own sound you just click the red button and record your audio while the video plays, so you can easily time it. You can also add in a separate audio file, for example a song from your collection or music that you have downloaded. The audio track appears underneath the video track and because it is displayed graphically you can adjust it to match the video. 

Hue Animation review

For his video, Harry chose to record himself speaking in a suitable Donald Duck voice and I think it works really well! Bearing in mind that he did it almost entirely by himself I think it's fantastic. Here is his finished video:

We connected the kit up initially to our desktop PC but I'm planning to put it on our laptop as it is a bit restricted. Harry is desperate to make a video where it looks as though he is flying (by taking a series of shots while he is mid jump) but that really needs to be done outside, so having it connected to a laptop will make it much more flexible.

Harry has been really creative with the kit so far, and he literally spent an entire morning playing with it. He moved it as far away from the PC as he could to make videos in the living room of his toys moving around, Duplo building itself, making a stuffed duck waddle across the floor and so on. He even ate all his lunch for once so that he could film it being eaten 'by itself'. He's had a brilliant time and I've loved watching all his videos!

Stop animation Hama bead heart

When the children were out of the way I had a go on my own, turning to my favourite Hama beads! I had an idea in mind before I started, and this was my setup:

Hama bead stop motion

The paper is stuck firmly to the table with BluTak and the pegboard is also stuck down in position. Next time I need to pay more attention to the lighting, I was working on a day with intervals of sunshine and cloud and I need to adjust the setup somehow to make it more consistent. I placed the beads on the pegboard, then I removed the heart to iron it before making it float away out of shot.

Stop motion software

This screenshot was taken just after I ironed the heart. The picture on the left shows the last picture that was taken, with all the beads in position on the board. The picture on the right shows what the camera can currently see, my ironed heart. You can see the ghost image of the previous picture, enabling you to line up the object and make sure that it is in the exact same place.

Then I decided to add some music. I have just discovered the YouTube Audio Library, with a reasonable selection of free music that you can download and add to your video projects. The track that I used for the Hama bead heart video is called Rustled Feathers. The whole video took me about half an hour to make, including choosing the music, and I'm very proud!

We are looking forward to lots more fun experimenting with the software. I think it's great value for money, and I've loved watching Harry see how creative he can be.

You can find out more about Hue Animation and see the projects that others have created on the Hue Animation Facebook page or by following Hue Animation on Twitter.

We were sent the Hue Animation software in exchange for a review. The Hue Animation Studio kit currently costs £49.95.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Orlando Science Center, Florida

Most flights from Orlando back to the UK depart in the early evening, so once you've checked out of your accommodation in the morning you have a whole day to fill before you need to head to the airport. We've always found it a struggle to know what to do, but this time Ram found us a fantastic place to visit - the Orlando Science Center.

The Orlando Science Center is located close to I4, about a half hour drive from the International Drive and main theme park areas, but it's not difficult to find. There is a large multi storey car park next door with a bridge to the museum, and it cost us just $5 to park. The museum is spread over four levels, and we started at the top and worked down.

Orlando Science Center dinosaur dig

Our first stop was the dinosaur dig area Jurassic Ridge, which was brilliant. The 'mud' was tiny rubber chips, and there were plenty of buckets and paintbrushes for the children to excavate with while the adults had a sit down. Younger ones can dig about happily, while older children can identify the fossil skeletons using the field guide provided, and use tape measures and cones to map out the area. There were also plenty of real dinosaur skeletons to see.

Orlando Science Center wind tower

We made our way through the different rooms, and there was so much to explore in each room. We are quite used to visiting science museums with the children, but there were lots of exhibits and experiments here that we'd not seen before.

We spent a lot of time making paper planes and helicopters to fly in a wind tube and moving a jet of air over a sandy landscape to see how it changed. We also enjoyed learning about building in earthquake areas, with an earthquake simulator and shaking tables to try out different building methods with blocks. We raced cars down a massive slope...

Orlando Science Center, Florida

...and built tracks with pipes along the wall to send balls down.

Orlando Science Center pipe wall

At the very bottom of the museum there is a fantastic Kids Town area. The highlight was an orange farm and factory - plastic oranges could be harvested from trees, transported to the factory by tractor power, boxed up in the factory and then sent back to the trees via tubes - it was so much fun! There is also a nature area with alligators and turtles, and a room all about bats with real live bats as well as interactive educational exhibits.

Orlando Science Center electricity experiment

There was a lovely gift shop there too. Mum bought some cool things for the children and we bought some kinetic sand which the children had enjoyed playing with elsewhere in the museum. It did cause our suitcase to be opened by security somewhere in the airport, but luckily it made it back!

Our only regret is that even though we spent most of the day here we could have stayed for so much longer. If we are lucky enough to find ourselves in Orlando again we will definitely be coming back!

Admission to the Orlando Science Center is $19 for adults and $13 for children, with children aged 2 and under free. The entry price also includes one Hollywood Movie if you have longer to spend there.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Simple Christmas crafts using ribbon

A little while back I received some gorgeous ribbon from Fantastic Ribbons for some Christmas crafting. You can see my Hama bead and ribbon tree ornaments here, and this week I've been crafting with the second ribbon that I received - 15mm Twill Ribbon "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". It's a lovely ribbon, nice and thick, and I wanted to come up with ways of using it that showed off the festive text.

Christmas ribbon from Fantastic Ribbons

I started with some simple baubles. I bought these plain baubles in Ikea a few years ago in the sales after Christmas. They were very cheap, and they aren't particularly nice as standalone baubles, but I knew that they would be easy to upcycle.

Plain Ikea baubles

I used fabric glue to stick a length of ribbon around the bauble and used some thinner contrasting green ribbon to make the hanging loop.

Ribbon covered baubles

Then I used some of the ribbon to decorate some little gift boxes. They are made from an old cardboard tube, covered in coloured Duck Tape (or you could cover with festive paper or paint them) and then the ribbon is used to decorate the ends, glued down with fabric glue. Once filled with small treats they can be stapled shut and handed out.

Duck tape and festive ribbon Christmas gift boxes

Finally I used the ribbon to tie the ends of our home made Christmas crackers. The ribbon looks lovely (and of course it can be removed and reused again for years to come!)

This particular ribbon would also be a great choice for wrapping any little gifts from Father Christmas, in particular I think it would be perfect for tying the top of a small fabric gift bag. If the children hadn't already seen it, I'd also be using it to wrap any little gifts that our Elf on the Shelf brings for them!

I received two rolls of Christmas ribbon to review.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Making Gingerbread houses with the children

This is the third year in a row that I've been making gingerbread houses. I remember how much I worried about making my first gingerbread house, and how proud I was of it! This year and last year instead of one I have made two smaller houses, so that the children can decorate one each.

I use a fantastic recipe from Tesco - How to Build a Gingerbread House. On the website you can find a video which is really helpful to watch first, and some templates that you can use for the pieces. To make two smaller houses I print the template at 75% of the size and the recipe makes enough gingerbread for the two houses along with extra for about eight gingerbread men or other decorations like little trees for the house.

The recipe is pretty straightforward. I never have any treacle so I just substitute golden syrup which seems to work fine. I also find that I don't need to add quite all of the melted butter and sugar to the dry ingredients, so I add it gradually and mix as I go. I make the gingerbread house pieces the day before and then store them overnight in a cake tin, separated by pieces of baking paper. This way they are nice and firm for when you come to assemble the house.

Gingerbread house pieces

A trick that I learned from the video is to roll out the gingerbread directly onto the baking paper and cut the pieces out, then move the whole thing onto a baking tray. This means that the pieces don't become misshapen. You need plenty of baking paper!

I do find that the larger pieces that make up the roof need a little longer to cook than the window pieces. You need to remove the pieces from the oven as soon as they have started to brown slightly and then leave them to cool. They will still be quite soft when they first come out the oven, but they do harden up.

The windows are made using crushed boiled sweets, I find that I need about six large sweets for all the windows in the two houses. For a larger house you need one boiled sweet which you can place whole in the centre of each window before putting the pieces in the oven.

The next day it's time to assemble the house. The smaller houses each fit nicely onto a dinner plate, covered with tin foil. I use Royal Icing which you can buy in powder form and just add water. I don't follow the instructions exactly as I find it makes the icing too runny. I find about 300g of icing sugar and 40ml of water makes a nice thick icing, but just add the water gradually and keep mixing, it's best if you can use an electric mixer. This makes loads of icing, enough to assemble the houses and with plenty left over for decorating.

Assembling a gingerbread house

I use an icing syringe to pipe the icing onto the pieces, making sure to stick it to the plate at the bottom. Assemble the walls first and leave to set before adding the roof (it takes about 10-15 minutes to set firmly enough). I start with the back piece, icing a line along the plate and propping it up using a glass. Then I add the sides, again icing along the bottom to hold it in place. Then finally add on the front piece. I fill in any gaps with plenty of icing and if necessary I ice along the bottom sides again so it's nice and sturdy. Adding the roof is a little more tricky and you may need to hold it in place for a few minutes so that it doesn't slide off!

Gingerbread houses ready to decorate

I make the gingerbread houses myself up to this point, as you do need a little bit of concentration! Then I let the children loose to decorate them. I find that chocolate buttons are good for decorating as they are light and stick down easily. Dolly mixtures add a bit of colour, and as I'm personally not a big fan of jelly sweets I always choose something that's nice and chocolatey too!

I helped the children decorate by piping them lines of icing that they could stick the sweets onto. They were so pleased with their finished houses!

Children decorated gingerbread houses

Monday, 15 December 2014

Playing miniature golf at Disney World Resort, Florida

There are four different miniature golf courses at Disney World Resort in Florida, and on our most recent holiday we managed to play on three of them! I thought I'd share a little bit about the different courses and the fun that we had. Entry to the miniature golf courses was included in the park passes that we bought for our holiday so it's worth checking your tickets, otherwise you can pay separately when you arrive. Currently each course costs $12 for a child and $14 for an adult.

On arrival you are given a time slot. We played early evening or first thing and never had to wait more than five minutes or so to play, but it might be worth checking the wait time in advance if you are visiting in peak season or at a busy time of day.

Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf

Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf is located at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel, but has its own entrance and car park. Here you can also find the Fantasia Fairways Miniature Golf Course which we've not yet tried, as it looks a little more difficult for our young family. These two golf courses are based around Disney's classic Fantasia film and each course has 18 holes.

Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf is situated a little apart from the main Disney parks, so it feels pretty quiet and relaxed. It's close to Hollywood Studios though, so you can see the Tower of Terror in the background and if you are there in the evening at the right time you can even see the Fantasmic fireworks in the distance.

The course is a little deceptive. Some of the holes look very difficult but there are often hidden routes which the ball will fall through if you aim it in the right general direction. Sometimes sending the ball along the correct ramp or tunnel will send it directly into the final hole! There is also sometimes a bit of helpful sloping going on to direct the ball where it needs to be, so it's great for little ones.

Fantasia mini golf Disney World

There is often both an easy and a difficult way to complete the course. For example the hole in the picture below has a steep ramp to shoot the ball up, but if you don't have enough power to get it all the way to the top it will fall through a lower hole in the ramp and still come out near where you need it to be.

Playing miniature golf at Disney World

Often, sending your ball the correct way through an obstacle will cause something to happen, for example music plays or there is a quick spray of water. Many of the obstacles are also moving which makes them more interesting and fun. There is one hole which is located in a dark cave, and when you send the ball through it triggers a dragon's roar and a scary shadow is projected onto the wall. This one was a little bit scary for the children - we had to run them through it with their eyes closed!

Crazy golf at Disney

Winter Summerland Miniature Golf

The Winter Summerland Miniature Golf course is located at Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park, but it is completely separate and opening times are different to the water park. There are two courses here - the Winter Course and the Summer Course - and each is a different 18 hole experience with plenty of fun obstacles. They are both pretty similar in terms of difficulty, and some of the theming is mirrored, for example there is an ice castle in winter and a matching sandcastle in summer.

The story behind the courses is that Father Christmas built a vacation destination for his elves, divided into two parts. One part is for those that wanted to enjoy the sunshine, and the other for those that preferred the chilly North Pole. Both areas have a Christmassy theme to them, finishing in a beautifully decorated Christmas area.

If you only have time to do one of the courses then there isn't much to choose between them, so I would choose the quietest one. Both courses are fairly compact so I would imagine that it might feel a little busier than that Fantasia course when there are more people around, but that also makes it a a little more suitable for younger children as it's not too overwhelming.

The Winter Course

The Winter Course features ice and snow. There are a few things to watch out for, in particular a cheeky snowman that seemed to squirt water completely randomly and was difficult to dodge!

Blizzard Beach miniature golf

The children loved trying to hit the ball through the ice castle, which has a moving drawbridge so you need to time your shot. It's not too difficult though!

Winter Summerland crazy golf

The Summer Course

We visited the Summer Course on a sunny day, but there is plenty of shade around the course from the Florida sun, and also a few places to sit while you wait for your turn.

Summer golf course at Blizzard Beach

Above you can see the sand castle above that is the same as the ice castle, and on the hole below the cheeky snowman has melted! Again, we found here that the courses often felt strategically ramped to send your balls the way that they are supposed to go, which is really good for little ones. This doesn't mean that it's not challenging for adults though.

Summer crazy golf at Disney

The final section of the course is beautifully themed with Christmas decorations and a festive fireplace, and at the very end you send your ball through a computer screen to receive a special message from Santa. 

Winter Summerland miniature golf at Disney

After finishing playing each of these courses, both children were given a souvenir Mickey golf ball to take home which was a lovely touch!

Harry (5) and Mia (3) managed really well with all of these miniature golf courses. Although some of the holes are a little more challenging, they didn't mind accepting a bit of help and they loved it when sending the ball a particular way caused something to happen. Even if you think that your children are too young to play miniature golf I'd still recommend giving it a go as it's a lot of fun even if they don't manage it all by themselves! With younger children I'd probably recommend starting with the Winter Summerland courses as they did feel a little easier and the theming felt more geared towards little ones. And definitely choose this one if you are visiting around Christmas time!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Christmas crafts using festive Duck Tape

Recently I've been crafting with Duck Tape. Duck Tape has been around for years, and it's a tough, very strong tape that can be easily torn and yet sticks firmly to almost anything. The film is combined with cotton, meaning that it's flexible, and can also be stuck together to produce a fabric type material. Duck Tape is available in a range of colours and patterns, and this Christmas I was sent some festive rolls to use for some Christmas crafting. I received gold, silver, red, green, black and white rolls.

Festive coloured rolls of Duck Tape

Here are some of the ways that I used the Duck Tape this Christmas:

Christmas card holder and display

This Christmas card holder is so easy to make from Duck tape. It can be stuck across a mantlepiece, a door frame, bookshelves, the wall - anywhere! You just need two long strips of Duck tape. Place one strip sticky side up across a long table and then stick a second piece the same length down on it, leaving about a centimetre of the sticky side showing. Fold the bottom of the tape down under the back so it is only sticky on one side. Then attach it to your chosen surface using some more Duck tape.

Duck tape hanger for Christmas cards

As you receive a card you can attach it to the tape from one corner where it will be held securely. The Christmas cards will easily peel away when you take them down, so that you can keep or recycle them.

Christmas cards hanging with Duck tape

A mat for Santa's treats on Christmas Eve

This mat for Father Christmas is made from a piece of cereal box covered in white Duck Tape. Then I made some stripes across the bottom left with the coloured tape. One of the strips is folded over to make a small pocket where the children can tuck a letter for Santa. I cut out a green circle from two pieces of tape stuck together for a mince pie. I must admit that it wasn't as easy as I had hoped to cut out the circle but I think that it looks okay. Then there is a rectangle for the carrot. This will go by the fireplace on Christmas Eve!

Duck tape mat for Santa

Duck Tape and ribbon gift boxes

These small, colourful gift boxes are made from old toilet roll tubes. The tube is covered in Duck tape, decorated with some festive ribbon and then stapled together at one end. Small treats are placed inside, then it is stapled shut ready to give to the recipient.

Duck tape and toilet roll tube Christmas gift boxes

Ribbon for decorations and wrapping

The gold and silver Duck Tape in particular can be used to make some lovely stiff ribbon. You just need two long strips. Place one strip sticky side up on a table then place another strip down. It can be quite tricky to line up the strips, so I placed one slightly higher up and then folded over both sides. The Duck tape is much easier to cut when it is covered on both sides, so you can cut a nice triangle into the ends. I used the Duck tape ribbon to make some bows for the Christmas tree, you could also use it to wrap presents, to decorate around the sides of you Christmas cake, to use on a wreath, or on all sorts of other festive decorations.

Duck tape gold ribbon

You can also buy Duck Tape in a huge range of colours and patterns. You can see some of the cool patterned tape that I bought on holiday recently. It also has loads of practical uses around the home. I used some to mend our cardboard play house and Harry's book bag!

I was sent a selection of Duck Tape to use for these crafts. A roll costs around £5.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Right Here, Right Now - December 2014

As I half mentioned in my post the other day, I've been feeling a bit out of touch with myself somehow lately. I felt that I needed to focus. So I'm joining in with Right Here, Right Now, hosted by Aly at Bug, Bird and Bee as a way of taking stock of what I've been up to.

Currently I am: Dealing with end of term over-tiredness in two small children that had a super busy holiday away last month instead of a half-term holiday to recover. Everyone apart from me in the house also has a streaming cold and hacking cough. We've had a lot of screaming and tears over the last few days (on all sides!). I'm looking forward to a day out (child free!) with my friends tomorrow though.

Reading: I'm currently reading Travelling to Infinity by Jane Hawking which I've been sent to review. It's the story on which the film The Theory of Everything is based, written by Stephen Hawking's first wife. I've not got very far with it yet, but it's proving to be a good read and I'm hoping to finish it before I watch the film.

Travelling to Infinity by Jane Hawking

Listening to: The only time I really listen to music is in the car when I'm driving the children about. At the moment it's mainly the Frozen soundtrack, to which I am word perfect, although Mia has currently developed an obsession with Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid. When I do get the chance to have my music on, I've been listening to some of my old Blur albums.

Swooning over: We've not been watching much on television lately, so unfortunately opportunities for swooning have been limited. I am quite sad that we've finished watching Breaking Bad though...

Planning: I've been doing a bit of Christmas planning, although to be honest I don't have much to do. All the presents are bought now with just a bit of wrapping to go, and we don't have to cook a big turkey dinner. I'm doing a bit of blog planning for the New Year, coming up with ideas for posts and scheduling them in, although I've slowed down a bit now that Christmas is approaching. I've recently started a bullet journal style system for keeping myself organised which is working out well.

Eating lots of: I can't keep away from the chocolate biscuits at the moment! Sleep has been a bit limited lately with poorly children, and I find myself headed towards the biscuit tin as a way to keep going. This weekend I'm hoping to make a start on the gingerbread house, so that will mean eating lots of gingerbread, and we've just opened the first of the Christmas chocolate tins!

Remembering: I've been feeling very nostalgic about Christmas past lately. I wrote a little bit about our Christmas traditions, I think that Christmas is a time when you can't help thinking about how things have changed over the years, and how little ones are growing up quickly.

Discovering: I've been trying my hand at stop motion animation lately along with Harry which has been a lot of fun. I also found out about the free YouTube music that you can add to your videos.

Films I've watched: Ram and I managed a trip to the cinema last week to see The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 1. I enjoyed it as I really liked the books, although I don't agree with splitting the last book into two films, I think that it could easily have been covered in one. Last night we watched A Most Wanted Man which was pretty good. We normally watch a lot of films together but we've slowed down a bit lately, we have a long list of films to get through!

Wearing: I'm in my winter uniform now of walking shoes, jeans and stretchy jumpers, with an extra hoodie over the top when it's cold in the house.

Making: I don't really have a long term craft project at the moment, as I still need to find one to settle to - something to think about in the New Year. I have the Hama beads out pretty much permanently and the other day I made a little Hama bead Christmas forest. I've also been trying to come up with Christmas crafts involving Duck Tape for a review post, which is proving more difficult than I'd anticipated!

I really enjoyed writing this post! You can visit the Right Here, Right Now linky here to see what Aly and others have been up to this month.

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