Digital Kids – Talking Tudors

With May Half Term fast approaching, we thought that we would show you what we did at Easter!

Imagine a gold-framed portrait of a dashingly dressed youth wearing a ruff so large it is barely contained by the frame, adorned with luscious locks and topped with a jaunty hat. Now picture this portrait speaking to you: “There is no head however fine that I cannot make fly!”  This is not a scene from Harry Potter; it was the V&A Digital Kids Easter Half Term event.   

Tudor Portraits

A selection of Tudor Portraits ©Victoria & Albert Museum

The theme for family activities for the Easter Half Term was Tudors. This was to celebrate the temporary exhibition here at the V&A – Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors Stuarts and the Russian Tsars  running from the 9 March – 14 July 2013. We, Lindsay and Mairin, were tasked with creating a Digital workshop. Here in the Digital Learning team we enjoy crafting playful and educational sessions for our family events that combine history, art, design and digital technology. The Digital Kids activity for the week was ‘Talking Tudor Portraits’ where participants digitally dressed up as a Tudor.  

Pietro Torrigiano, Portrait Bust, England (London),1509-1511, Painted terracotta, British Galleries room 58e case 8, Mus Ref: A.49-1935 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Off with Their Heads! Tudor History

The first step for us was to brush up on Tudor history. We learnt a lot from the V&A’s rich collection of Tudor art. Highlights in the collection include the Portrait Bust of King Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor Dynasty, in the British Galleries (Room 58). The 16th Century Hans Holbein oil painting of King Henry VIII, one of the most well-known Tudors famous for chopping the heads off his multiple  wives. The Oil Painting can be viewed in the V&A Prints and Drawings Room.  

Hans Holbein, Oil painting,16th Century,  Oil on panel, Prints & Drawings Study Room WS case R shelf 35 box L, Mus Ref: 620-1882, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Mairin recently arrived from Canada and was somewhat unfamiliar with Tudor history (rather than learning about the antics of this royal dynasty, Mairin learned about the intrigues of the early Prime Ministers of Canada like Sir John A. MacDonald). It was a bit overwhelming trying to catch up and remember all the names of Kings and Queens – all those wives of King Henry VIII to remember too! Much to Mairin’s relief Lindsay kindly showed her the song and dance used in schools here to remember King Henry VIII’s partners (do you know it?).

So, now being familiar with the Tudors and their penchant for chopping heads, we put our own intact heads together to plan the activities!

Preparation & Practice

The preparation work we undertook for the activity included taking images of Tudor art from the V&A collection and cutting out the clothes and adornments (using Photoshop). We loved the concept that after taking part, families could visit the galleries and look at the paintings on display to find the pieces of clothing that they digitally dressed themselves up in. Perhaps they had worn Queen Elizabeth I’s hair, Mary Queen of Scot’s dress, and topped it off with the The Heneage Jewel originally given to Sir Thomas Heneage by Queen Elizabeth I.  We designed handouts, instruction videos for participants, selected Tudor recordings and enjoyed testing the activity by dressing ourselves and our Museum colleagues up as Tudors!

Ready for My Close-Up!

Posing like Tudors for the webcam. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

When Easter Half Term arrived the Sackler Centre was decorated up in Tudor style. Families signed up in advance to take part in Talking Tudor hourly sessions in the Digital Studio within the Sackler Centre. After an introduction to the activity we had the families take their photograph with the web cam on the computer (using Photo Booth). Then using Photoshop participants erased the background leaving only a floating head and neck.

Playing Dress-Up

Digitally Dressing Up as a Tudor using Comic Life © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Next using Comic Life, an affordable educational piece of software, participants dressed themselves up as a Tudor. The floating head was added to the picture, dressed in Tudor clothes, and then with the addition of a period background – voila everyone had created a Tudor portrait. 

Drawing the shape of a Tudor mouth using Blabberize © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Look Whose Talking

Now to make it talk and create the Harry Potter-esque magic – we used a free website called Blabberize. Participants uploaded their Tudor Portraits to the Blabberize website and drew the shape of mouths onto the pictures. Next they selected pre-recorded Tudor voices including Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I and King Henry VIII, each saying a famous line attributed to them. The website overlaid the audio with the picture and, when played, the mouth-shape moved to make magical talking portraits!

Mutual Admiration Club

We were delighted to receive positive feedback from visitors that suggested everyone had as much fun doing the activity as we did designing it. Comments included:

“Absolutely amazing. Thanks so much. This was the best thing on the computer I have ever done.”

“Thank you. I loved it and had fun creating my Tudor character using ‘comic life.’ I have been to most sessions in the past and it is a real treat to come.”

Tune In Next Time

We are currently planning Digital Kids May half term events (running from Saturday the 25th of May until Sunday the 2nd of June). May half term will be themed around the David Bowie Is exhibition and participants will have the opportunity to make a song!