Evolution! A How-To Guide
Here is a step by step guide of how I typically do my “evolution!” activity with the salamander-like creatures. In the years since I initially started I’ve also done plants, flowers, insects, fish, fungus, and all manner of different things, so don’t feel limited by my subject matter: the iterative process I use here can be applied to most everything!
You will need~
1. A whole lot of crayons. I chose crayons mainly because I could get a lot of them, they were colorful, and they usually aren’t a medium people spend a lot of time on. The name of the game with this is speed, and something like colored pencils or markers and pens would slow people down. Maybe. Ive never tried it. But crayons are a good bet. I used two Crayola 96 packs, and gave every 2 people or so their own mini-carton of crayons. This usually meant they had enough colors to make something without fighting over crayons, but eventually people tend to lend each other the colors they need anyway.
2. A whole lot of paper. With 6 generations times X number of participants you’ll be going through a lot of paper. Generally speaking at least 100 or so creatures were made in an average group, but it can always be more or less depending.
3. A partitioned folder. I got a bunch of folders with little partitions in them to keep each generation separate. Along with a section for the “timeline” of the group. This includes the direct lineage of chosen creatures for each generation. This is important for later!
4. Tape!(or Magnets) Just some regular scotch tape will do but something like painters or artists tape is even better if you don’t want to risk damaging the original drawings. You’ll be using this to put up the drawings on a wall or something so everyone else can see. Magnets work even better if you have a magnetic board because you can quickly and easily move drawings around without damaging the artwork in any way.
(optional) 5. Microphone If you wanted to get some recorded sound effects like I had, you’ll need a mic of some kind. I used a ZOOM H2 Mic. You’d also need headphones if you wanted to hear it as you were recording.
And….that’s it! Pretty simple really. Now for the actual process…
STEP 1: Hand Everyone 6 Sheets of Paper
Once you have everyone in one place and ready and raring to go, give them each 6 sheets of paper. Part of the game is to move quickly and not allow for ‘mistakes.’ If anyone seemed to be second-guessing themselves or trying to flip their page to start over I would try to stop them. I wanted their initial and gut instinct in what they drew, which was always better than their “do-overs”anyway!
STEP 2: Give the People Their Crayons
As I mentioned earlier I had two 96 packs of Crayola crayons which are divided into little sub-boxes holding about 16 crayons each. I would pass these out however it seemed to work, but it usually boiled down to something like 1 little box for every 2 people.
STEP 3: Brandish Your Starting Creature
Once everyone’s settled, you can begin. I held up (in the initial groups I was using a projector, but when I couldn’t later on I just held up the drawings. The kids had no problem seeing it and it was a lot easier!) my initial salamander and told them to copy it the best they could, but that it didn’t have to be perfect. I stressed that they should copy what they see, but I wasn’t very specific on what they had to do if they asked me anything. Usually someone will ask if it has to be the same color, as they will panic when they realize they don’t have any of those crayons in their box, to which I’d answer with “no.” If anyone seemed hesitant to draw I would prod them along. Once people start drawing something they usually finish it.
STEP 4: Mark Each Round
Be sure to have everyone label what round it is as they draw. This ensures that even if the drawings get jumbled you can resort them later. To do this, simply ask for everyone to write a 1 in the corner somewhere. This is to mark round 1!
STEP 5: Watch the Clock
I had about an hour for every group, so I had to make sure I moved quickly. I would give them only a few mins to draw, but as we kept going and things tend to get more ‘complex’ I would allow for a little more time. Usually if one kid ‘finishes’ I would stop the round right there and announce it. This typically sends everyone into a mad rush to get theirs done “in time.” I would let them keep drawing as I would collect all the sketches. If you have anyone helping you, you can start collecting and have them fed to you to start taping up, or have one person taping, another collecting, etc. In any case, don’t give them too much time to overthink, overdraw, or do their drawing over.
STEP 6: The Tape/Magnets
After collecting your drawings, begin to tape/magnet them to a wall in rows and columns.
STEP 7: The Mass Extinction
Give them a few seconds to look at everyone’s drawings, as they always have fun seeing what other people came up with. Here you can say what you’d like about variation or genes etc. and then give some reason for them to go extinct (something generic is best like “The swamp they were in has dried up over time”). Pull off most of the drawings from the wall. You’ll probably get a lot of cries of anguish and pleading, but don ‘t stop for anything! Now I generally would leave maybe 3 or 4 left, but if time was short of the group seemed very indecisive I would only leave 2. I would be pulling essentially at random, but I would also go for drawings I thought would be better at illustrating the point than others,(for instance I would avoid the more abstract drawings because I knew people would have a hard time copying it. I did try it once however, and the results were very interesting, but everyone was more or less confused so its up to you) or if I noticed a kid was getting really worked up over their creature getting eliminated over and over again I would at least push it into the first “round” of eliminations.
Anyhow, let’s say you have 2 or 3 creatures left. At first I just had them pick one that they liked. They usually go for the one that’s the best drawn, which is fine. After this first generation I begin to ask them why they chose a creature. This gets people to think about why the creature would be better adapted, or at least defend their position (things they probably weren’t considering very strongly before this point). This is where you can catch people staunchly defending their own drawing, or picking something and then sheepishly admitting they don’t really have a good reason for picking it. I do this line of questioning with both creatures so that people can always get a sense of what other people are thinking, but I always go with whichever creature gets the most votes.
STEP 8: File Them Away!
Be sure to check that everyone’s drawing has a 1 for stage 1 marked on the drawing (if they don’t fill one in or you can do it later), and file all the drawings away in your GENERATION 1 section of your partitioned folder.
STEP 9: Repeat Steps 3-8!
From here, do as before. Hold up the new starting creature and ask them to copy it once more. By now they’ll understand the game a little bit more and should start moving faster and being more comfortable with the process overall. Be sure to ask them to mark these new drawings with a 2 for generation 2, 3 for 3, etc. I would also keep mixing up the scenarios, however, as we went along, in this order.
GENERATION 1: The first copy, usually a salamander type thing if you use a picture like mine. End with having them pick a creature they like
GENERATION 2: Typically similar to the first generation, more salamander creatures, but people tend to start deviating a little more. End with saying that “It is now a desert, which creature would better survive in a desert?” You can also give them some mental imagery by asking them to think of what desert animals do to survive on earth, and now that resources are scarce, they may have to be more fierce to survive. Generally the creature chosen has ‘desert-like’ colors.
GENERATION 3: Now you should start to see some wild creatures! Typically lots of spines, spikes, teeth and nails. The occasional background element tends to creep in now as well in the form of a cactus. Eliminate the creatures as usual and ask them to now select for a forest environment. Try to include creatures that vary a lot in how they look beforehand so you aren’t stuck with 4 sand colored lizards.
GENERATION 4: It’s usually a greenish lizard that starts this generation. Lots of trees tend to enter the drawings now and sometimes the creatures are interacting directly with the background in some way. At this point narrow down your creatures again, but the final generations I left open. Each group had a different “ending,” with the one in the animation being “Ice Age.” Others included the Underground, The Sky, The Deep Sea, and The Mountains.
GENERATION 5-6: Similar to the first two generations, things just tend to reinforce themselves here. At generation 5 you usually get some kind of transitional form looking animals, and for Gen 6 just keep pushing it ‘deeper’ into that new area. So the ice age creatures get even more hairy and tusky, the sea creatures get even more aquatic, and so on.
End with everyone’s final creatures on the wall, and pull out the rest of the chosen creatures that led up this point, which there should be 7 (6 including your original, which I internally refereed to as Generation 0). Here its quite easy to see the small but dramatic changes made over time to get to where everyone ended up, and you have a nice chat about evolution etc. at this time.
From there get your drawings packed away and you’re done!
(OPTIONAL) Sound Recording: Generally at the last second I would record some sounds. I would just pull out my mic and either have everyone file by in a line or they would just crowd around me and record one sound each. Just have everyone be as quiet as possible and record one sound each. If there are only a few people you can keep recording multiple sounds. Of course, there will be laughter, but I left all of that in my final animation.
And that’s about it! You should have a folder jammed full of drawings and possibly a mic packed full of cool sound effects. From here we’ll get into my actual animating process and the programs I used, the background elements, and the music.