Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-gram Studio: Past, Present & Future

See the presentation that Ron Green, Executive Director of digiSTORY KC, offered to students, faculty and board members of the Johnson County Community College on May 3, 2018.  It tells the story of Walt Disney’s early animation business efforts in Kansas City and his move to California due to the bankruptsy of his Laugh-O-gram Studio.  Ron also describes the digital media industry in Kansas City and today’s opportunities for growth in that industry.  He describes plans for renovating the Laugh-O-gram building by its owning non-profit organization, Thank You Walt Disney.  This video can be viewed at https://youtu.be/CGJF1LRnjuc.  The length of the presentation is 54 minutes and 15 seconds followed by 6 minutes of Q&A.

Video courtesy of Bob Epps, Johnson County Community College



This video was filmed and produced by Jessica Albina, a senior in Avila University’s Visual Communications program.  Jessica served as a summer intern and supported our summer workshops.  Jessica is a talented digital storyteller with creative ideas and an eye for great camera shots.  Jessica was a great partner during our summer workshops.  She was great at working with children and brought great mentoring and guidance to our summer workshop program.  Thanks, Jessica for your great work this summer.  I hope you will enjoy learning about digiSTORY KC as you view Jessica’s video.

Why Stop-Motion Animation?

Our most popular workshop at digiSTORY KC is stop-motion animation. We offer the course in three formats:
• Stop-Motion Animation
• Claymation
• LEGO Show Time
Stop-motion animation is a form of animation that uses objects rather than drawings to bring life to characters. Stop-motion animators use a wide range of materials to create their characters: clay (Claymation), LEGOs, cut paper, 3 dimensional puppets, fruit, toys—you name it. Any object that can appear to come to life by adding movement and expression can become the material of a skillful animator.

Stop-motion animation is our entry-level course at digiSTORY KC for kids who want to learn more about multimedia production. One reason for this is that students can experience the “Wow” factor of multimedia early in their workshop experience. Using our stop-motion animation software, students capture progressive movements of the objects one photo at a time. Within minutes of starting this process they get to see the cumulative effect of their movements and expressions: their characters are coming to life before their eyes. Not much later in the process they are recording voiceovers and dialog and are adding sound effects and music into their productions. In fact all of the key multimedia elements of standard video editing software programs are part of their stop-motion animation project: working with timelines, audio editing, image editing, chroma-key background replacement, adding titles, credits, etc.

Our students learn the full range of multimedia production in an easy-to-learn and easy-to-use program that doesn’t require exceptional drawing skills or experience in photography and audio technology. They get to complete a full story and enjoy the satisfaction of sharing their creation with others on our YouTube Channel. This experience helps kids become aware of even greater opportunities in multimedia production and helps guide them to other areas for exploration in media.

Our stop-motion animation workshops are offered in two scheduling formats:
• 6-hour after-school workshops during the school year, and
• 16-hour formats during the summer.
The after-school version typically meets one day of the week for four weeks from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. The summer workshop meets for four consecutive days (Monday – Thursday) for 4 hours each day. The summer version is ideal because the students have ample time to create their stories and complete all of the many multimedia tasks to finish their productions. The depth of instruction time is more limited for the after-school format because teams need to use more of the available time to work on their productions. Still, teams create fun and rewarding animations that make them want to come back for more.

As students gain experience with stop-motion, they begin to add levels of sophistication that greatly enrich their stories. They add more sophisticated movements and facial and body expressions. They develop better stories and they add more graphic interest to their scenes through the use of design tools and green screen technology.

Once a student has experienced a successful stop-motion animation production, they have a solid background for exploring drawn animation or video production.

Here’s an overview of what is included in our standard stop-motion animation workshop experience:

Session 1: Participants learn about animation and how it works. They create a flip book and a thaumatrope to see how static pictures appear to move in animation and video. They learn about frames and frame rates for animation and video. They learn digiSTORY KC’s story model and work with teammates to create an original story. They create a storyboard and script for that story. They learn how animators use animatics to plan for voiceovers and other multimedia to pace the image requirements for the story.

Session 2: Teams learn production techniques and ideas for various stop-motion formats (e.g. Claymation, LEGO® figures, etc.). They complete their work adding voiceovers to their production piece. Teams learn about chroma key technology and start planning and preparing backgrounds and props for their production sets. Teams learn about the three phases of the production process, and they learn about careers in digital media. Team members choose from those job roles and begin their camera production work. Teams also learn about the importance of movement and expression for their characters.

Session 3: Teams spend this entire session producing their multimedia story. They are taking photos and adding them to their video timeline. They are adding sound effects, music tracks and special design effects. They are photographing actions against constructed backgrounds, or they are adding backgrounds using chroma key (green screen) technology.

Session 4: Teams complete the filming stage of their production and begin adding all remaining post-production elements: titles, credits, music sound tracks, special effects, etc. When their production is finished, they post the piece to the digiSTORY KC YouTube Channel. Teams end the session by sharing their production pieces with the rest of the teams and discussing their work on the project.

Stop-motion animation workshops are offered throughout the year. View our Events Calendar to see what workshops will be offered soon at digiSTORY KC.

Blue Valley Students Produce Walt Disney Video

A recent video produced by Celina Wehr and Ethan Pate of Blue Valley Southwest High School demonstrates that the future of digital storytelling is in good hands. Celina and Ethan are students in the Broadcasting Technology and Performing Arts program at BVSW. They recently produced a short news video about Walt Disney’s life in Missouri and his work at the Laugh-O-gram Film Studio in Kansas City in 1922. You can view the video on Vimeo at this link:


Ethan Pate (left), Celina Wehr (right) shown with Steve Cortez, Instructor, Broadcasting Technology and Performing Arts program at Blue Valley Southwest High School.

Ron Green, Executive Director of digiSTORY KC, visited the BVSW broadcasting studio and production classroom recently to be interviewed for the video. What he found was a classroom full of eager students, a well-equipped soundstage and multimedia lab, and a buzz of activity as student teams worked on their projects. The available wall space was crowded to the ceiling with certificates of award for the students high-quality work.

The production studio at BVSW is well equipped and well used by the students in the Broadcasting Technology program.

Students are focused on pre-production and post-production work in their multimedia lab area.

The visit to their studio was delightful, and the result of the students’ project speaks for itself. Celina and Ethan took no short cuts in producing a quality video.  They conducted a professional quality video interview session.  They traveled to Marceline, Missouri and to the Laugh-O-gram building at 31st & Forest in Kansas City to get good images and b-roll for their piece. They also conducted research to learn about Walt’s history in our area and to find photos and animations from Walt’s time in Kansas City.

Celina and Ethan are living up to an ideal once stated by Walt Disney: ““Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”

digiSTORY KC to Launch digiSTORY Academy

digistory__logo--roundOn November 28, 2016, the Digital Storytelling Center of Kansas City will open its new digiSTORY Academy in the Connecting for Good facility at 3210 Michigan Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. “This is an exciting and significant step for digiSTORY KC…“ says Ron Green, Executive Director “… because we no longer are dependent on other non-profit programs to provide the equipment and space we need to offer our digital storytelling workshops to kids in KC’s urban core.”

connectingforgoodTom Esselman, CEO of KC’s Connecting for Good, approached the digiSTORY KC organization about collaborating to offer digital storytelling workshops in its space at the facility. “Connecting For Good is expanding its programs for digital education, careers, and life skills in the urban core. We welcome digiSTORY as an exciting partner in the expansion of the beautiful LAMP campus.”


A key mission of digiSTORY KC is “to inspire and educate the next generation of digital storytellers.” Although we’re starting with just one classroom, we will now be able to offer after-school, evening, Saturday and week-long summer workshops,” says Green. We invite the public to join us for our Open House on Wednesday, November 30th from 5:00 – 7:30 p.m. Visitors may drop in any time during that period. Comments from the Executive Director, key partners and the board of directors will be shared at 5:30.

The program launch will include four workshops: two targeted for kids and two targeted for teens and adults:

“We are being very aggressive about this launch,” points out Ron Green. “We are actively seeking to expand our volunteer base to help us meet a demanding schedule of workshops. We also are falling short of the equipment and materials needed to function at the level of quality we desire for our workshops. Donations could never be more timely for our organization than right now. We believe that our leap of faith to move the program forward will be alleviated by the demand we have heard from parents for after-school programs that are fun for kids yet meet their needs for enhanced digital literacy.”

During digiSTORY KC’s first two years, it focused primarily on serving kids in KC’s urban core through partnerships with organizations like Operation Breakthrough. The board of directors recently voted to implement a new strategy that now encourages collaboration between underserved kids from the urban core with kids from outside of the urban core. The goal is to help kids from different cultural backgrounds to collaborate on projects that will help them appreciate the talent and innovation of their fellow team members. “Digital media is one of the most collaborative industries around,” cites Green. “Just look at a movie’s credits and you’ll get a sense of how dependent the production is on talented people working together effectively. By encouraging kids from within and outside of KC’s urban core to work together, we hope not only to bridge KC’s “digital divide” but also its “cultural divide.”

Because digiSTORY is a relatively new non-profit organization, winning funding support from area firms and foundations has been a challenge. digiSTORY KC hopes to meet workshop program expenses by charging modest workshop fees for those who can afford to pay them while waiving fees for those from families facing financial hardships.

“By offering our expanded workshop program, we hope to meet two key goals for our digiKIDS KC program: 1) to enhance the digital literacy of area kids, and 2) to introduce kids to STEAM-based career opportunities in digital media. These careers can provide rewarding professions while helping to fill the future needs of Kansas City’s robust digital storytelling industry.

Maker Matters

It was time for a new digital storytelling workshop and the kids were coming in to get settled before starting time.  This was our first workshop outside of Kansas City’s urban core.  This particular workshop was being held in a middle class, suburban/rural community.  Access to digital devices, wifi and cool apps is normally a big barrier in the neighborhoods where we offer our workshops.  In this case, the kids who showed up were digitally savvy and in some cases economically privileged.  One young man brought an expensive laptop and popped open a fairly sophisticated audio editing application.  He was working on a music video.  Others were talking about cool apps and using the lingo from the world of wifi wonders.

Immediately I began second-guessing my plans for opening the workshop—to have the kids create their own flip books and thaumatropes to demonstrate how rapidly moving single image frames create the illusion of movement.  It usually is a great way to drive home the fundamentals of frames and frame-rates for animation.  Surely these kids were too sophisticated to start with such a childish activity.  How could I adjust for these kids who seemed obviously too mature for that!?!

It was too late to make dramatic changes at this point, so I plowed ahead with having the kids cut out and create the spinning thaumatropes and the flip books.

I was astonished at the result.  They leaped into the exercise with the energy of Santa’s little workshop elves.  They reveled in a flurry of activities: cutting—shaping—stringing—fastening. They took great delight in seeing their crafted objects come to life.  These were toys that were centuries old, yet they still somehow fascinated today’s savvy digikids.

I was embarrassed that I had overlooked one of the most fundamental drivers of our KCdigiKids program—we create makers.   Sure, we focus on making them digital story makers, but it’s still all about makers.  Making stuff matters!  We give kids the opportunity to imagine, to create—to produce.  Nothing locks in learning like making a concept active and tangible.  There’s a reason we call our learning sessions “workshops” and not “classes”—we get kids actively engaged in creating something they can share with pride to others.

Our KCdigiKids workshops are fun!  They need to be.  Whether it’s flip books or video game apps, we are teaching kids to be makers in a world that is constantly changing its technology.  Today these projects may seem like just a fun way to amuse kids, but it’s how we prepare them for tomorrow that really matters.  Our ever-changing technology will dramatically alter what skills and knowledge these kids will need when they grow up.  Our job as educational makers is to be certain they are ready to flourish in that world.

Welcome to Your World, Alina

I’m thrilled to have a new granddaughter–Alina.  Here’s a link to my video message to her.  I can’t help it–I’m a digital storyteller.

Welcome to Our World, Alina

Digital Fishing Trip

I was jostled awake earlier in the morning than I could ever recall up to that point in my life. It was still dark outside, but my groggy eyes brightened when I realized that today was the day that my daddy was taking me on a fishing day—just me and him. It was a summer day in 1953 and I was only 5 years old, but I still remember my dad tying off the long cane poles to the side of the car with the colorful bobbers bobbing in the wind as the car drove to our Lake Lansing destination. I still recall stopping for breakfast that morning—a very rare treat because we almost never went to a restaurant at that time. I remember the fun of catching perch and blue gill. What I remember most, though, is stopping by the home of my dad’s friend, Art. Art was a crusty, brusque and earthy man. I still recall being fascinated by his cigars. I loved the smell of the smoke and the brown curls that rose to the ceiling before evaporating from my sight. It was this invitation to the grown-up world of men that I remember most. I was allowed into that inner circle of men who seemed to know anything that mattered—men who called me “champ” and included me in their joking, their chatter and their banter. My dad had made me part of who he was and what he loved. At the end of our fishing trip I remember skipping into the house. It was a day I would always remember.

This weekend the roles were reversed. It was I who was jostling a young one to wake up for a long-awaited outing. I was waking up my grandson. It would not be for fishing. Instead it was for assisting me at our KCdigiSTORY Center booth at the KC Maker Faire. He would be in charge of introducing our booth visitors to Google Cardboard and the fun of 3-dimensional virtual reality experiences. We stopped at Panera’s for breakfast—a frequent ritual for me, but a rare joy for Jared. He was excited to be in charge of something that showed off his digital savvy. He engaged visitors with energetic delight. He bantered with the grown-ups and traded talk on all things digital. He took special joy in counting the bills in the cash box and periodically pronouncing our progress in sales throughout the event.

I don’t recall ever feeling quite so close as this with my grandson. And I think he felt the same about the experience—

I noticed when we returned home that he skipped into the house.

As for me, I may have called him “champ” once or twice