Followup on Pencil

PencilSeveral weeks ago I wrote about my discover of and interest in Pencil, a multi-platform FLOSS animation tool. My 8th grade eStories students downloaded Pencil and installed it into their PHD Applications folder and prepared to begin creating animations. We had all reviewed the basic principals of frame-by-frame animation, the differences between vector and bitmap images, and the basics of working with layers.

The students quickly mastered the basic tools of Pencil and began to create their planned animations. The assignment was not large (a 30 second scene of their chosing) and they we prompted frequently to save their changes. They were somewhat hesitant to work in this “traditional” format rather than using a tool like Flash, so I felt some pressure to ensure that their experience with Pencil was rewarding.

As the work progressed, it became apparent that Pencil was not yet the tool I had hoped that it was. There were several glitches, major and minor, that became recurring problems in our class.

  • There seems to be a default-to-bitmap-layer bug in Pencil that caused students to repeatedly find that their carefully rendered vector images were in fact bitmaps. Each student who found this to have happened swore that they had chosen the correct layer and I actually experience this frustration myself.
  • Saved Pencil files actually consist of a file (with no file extension) and a folder (with a .data extension). Students could not double-click on the file to reopen their work (no file extension) and the two objects had to be moved together so that the movie would not break. I know this sounds simple, but file management is a big issue for Middle School students.
  • Pencil simply crashes too often. It either quits without warning (and without saving) or freezes until the student force-quits (also without saving). We lost quite a bit of work due to these crashes and lost work is lost time.

I remain interested in Pencil and will continue to follow its development on the Pencil website, but I will discontinue its use in my classes until it is sufficiently stable. The interface and general ease of use make me hopeful that Pencil will, one day, return to my classroom.

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