of Comprehension of Animation Logic in Young Children
Presented at the 2002 Society
for Animation Studies Conference, Glendale, CA
Note: This paper is
intended to be read in conjunction with the viewing of a companion
videotape of student work samples. Please contact the author for
information about obtaining a copy of the video.
are immersed in media, and in particular, animation, as it is found
on television, in movies and in video and computer games. Yet few
children think about how animation is created until they are given an
opportunity to do so themselves. New technologies available for home
and school use are making animation an accessible form of
self-expression for children.
I was first
exposed to the art of animation when I was in high school. Shortly
after I began making my own frame-by-frame movies with Super-8mm
film, I started teaching it, in turn, to children, as an apprentice
to my mentor, animation teacher Gail Banker. I worked with her for
several years before I began teaching animation classes on my own.
Since then, I have had the pleasure of working with more than 1,000
children, teaching animation at summer camps, in after-school
programs, in libraries, community centers and elementary schools.
presentation is based on observations of hundreds of children ranging
in age from four to fourteen, made during animation workshops I have
conducted in schools. I am currently listed on the Washington State
Arts Commission Roster of Art Educators, so I am often hired as an
artist-in-residence at one school for two or more weeks. Working in
public schools, I face the challenge of including several hundred
children in an art experience that lasts only a few weeks. Depending
upon the amount of time and the number of children I have to work
with, I adapt my instruction to provide the best experience for the
situation. I have developed various curricula to fit different
situations and grade levels.
In all of my
workshops, I always start by asking the students about their favorite
animated television shows and movies. As can be expected, the most to-the-moment
properties are cited, mainstream, commercial stuff. But talking
about these properties in a school setting is very exciting for the
children, and engages them in a way that allows me to focus their
attention on the concepts being presented. The idea is that they will
watch those shows differently after having experienced creating
animation themselves. One of my goals is to show that animation is an
art form as well as a career path.
In the State
of Washington, public schools are regulated by a set of guidelines
called the Essential Academic Learning Requirements or EALRs, which
define benchmarks for learning at each grade level. Sets of EALRs
exist for 10 content areas: Reading, Writing, Math, Communications,
Mathematics, Science, Civics, Economics, Geography, History and
Health, and an 11th has just been introduced for the Arts, a category
that includes Visual Art, Performing Arts, Music and Dance.
Obviously, there is not and will probably never be a category for
Animation, but I believe that the art of animation is an ideal
companion art form for connecting not only the arts but also other
content areas. I am a supporter of multi-disciplinary education and
am always looking for ways to use animation as a learning tool in
helping teachers teach other subjects. As art education is virtually
eliminated from public school education by school systems facing
budget cuts, such creative integration of the arts will be a key
component of successful education reform in the future.
Over and over,
I have observed commonalities in the ways that children of various
ages respond to animation instruction. A pattern has emerged that
seems to naturally fit with the learning benchmarks set forth in the
EALRs. Children's understanding of what I like to call "Animation
Logic," or how animation works, goes hand in hand with concepts
learned at each grade level. I have observed children's comprehension
of animation logic on several levels as it connects with other
content areas. These include:
Comprehension of multiplication, division and fractions help children
understand that 24 frames are combined to create one second of animation.
Arts: Aesthetic principles of design, composition, contrast and
visual symbols; Motor skills, hand-eye coordination and the ability
to repeat a drawing are helpful in creating animation.
Writing: Principles of storytelling, story structure, characters and
settings help children express themselves beyond the realm of experimentation.
Scientific principles of visual perception, cameras and projection
technology are extremely high-level and can only be brushed upon
before intermediate grade levels of six and up.
Physical laws and limitations of movement, velocity, gravity,
transformation and metamorphosis are also complex ideas that come
into play when children are having their second or third experience
of creating animation. This is when they begin to apply the laws of
the natural world to their animation.
Much of what I
teach also ties in with "Media Literacy," an increasingly
important item on school's agendas. Although these principles are
helpful in the process of learning animation, they are not a
prerequisite to a child having an experience creating animation. I
have adapted my instruction for each grade level.
Case Study: Flipbooks
My most common
residency is two weeks long. In this time frame, I have found that
flipbooks are the simplest way to work with many children. There are
multiple class groups, and I spend one period with each, then they
visit the "studio" where my animation equipment is set
up-usually on the stage or in a spare room-- while the flipbooks are
In the 40
minutes that I get to spend with each class group, after I listen to
them talk about their favorite animation, I have them gather in a
circle on the reading area of the classroom floor. I let them handle
and share 30 examples of small hand-held flipbooks, looking at them
"fast," flipping the book forward and backward to see the
whole motion, and "slow," turning each page of the flipbook
one at a time to see the changes made in each drawing. We pass the
flipbooks around as I review them one-on-one with children and
discussion among students is encouraged. When it seems they have
grasped the concept, I ask them if they are ready to make their own
flipbooks, and the response is always a loud "yes!" from
the group. The children return to their desks and get a pencil out
while I pass out 5 x 8-inch, 100-page pads of unlined paper, which
are pre-taped at the binding to prevent pages from falling out. While
I demonstrate on a large pad, we start the flipbooks together.
Starting at the bottom page of the pad, each student draws a dot,
then together we make the dot bigger and bigger on each page for five
pages. This demonstrates the first technique they learn for
animation: change of size. I go on to teach them four techniques for
animation that they then have the option of using. They can change:
Making an image progressively larger or smaller.
Progressively altering the shape of an image until it becomes
something else. Also called morphing for metamorphosis.
Changing the location of an image to create the illusion of it
Tracing and then adding or subtracting part of an image on each page
to create the effect of something being drawn or erased by an
have one week to finish the flipbooks during classroom "free
time" and recess. Once I collect the books, I film them "on
threes," holding each drawing for three frames, which makes one
second out of every eight drawings. In the average school, with about
300 students, the flipbooks combined make a video about one hour long.
Grade by Grade
Now I am going
to show you a video of samples of flipbooks by each grade level, K-6,
and point out some of the typical characteristics.
Kindergarten, when children are age 5 and 6, they:
Can draw the
same or similar image repeatedly. They are learning about patterns
and repetition, which enables them to draw an image repeatedly for at
least four pages. After that, the short attention span of this age
group takes over and causes the child to change the image they are
drawing, essentially "starting over."
Like to draw
the same thing, and are often taught "how to draw" various
simple things such as a tree, a face, or to write their name. The way
to get the best finished animation results from this age group is to
instruct them to draw something over and over again. First, find what
they like to draw, then ask them to turn the page and draw
capable of tracing one drawing over another. They are better off
drawing something again from scratch.
Can trace the
outline of their hand on the page, and this is a fun way to animate
for kids who get stuck.
Grade, when children are age 6 and 7, they:
Have a longer
attention span, can keep drawing the same image for more pages than a Kindergartener.
Can move the
position of an image sequentially on each page.
Can change the
size of an image one page at a time, particularly an increase in size.
ways to tell stories, and have a particular interest in natural
occurrences of metamorphosis, such as a caterpillar turning into a
butterfly or a bird egg hatching.
by media they consume, often trying to depict characters from their
favorite TV shows.
emerging ability to morph shapes.
Try to tell
elaborate stories like ones they are reading, and often draw images
with large changes, looking more like comic books than animation.
Grade, when children are age 7 and 8, they:
morphing, changing shape of an object slowly. Can change the shape of
a complex object.
of the alphabet as images.
symbols in drawing: sun, moon, house, star, flower, etc.
demonstrate an abstract sensibility, drawing similar shapes or
patterns to create an animated design.
geometry, and often draw shapes: triangle, square, circle, etc.
animate but still a bit too fast. Interestingly, at this age they
learn about basic fractions, ½, ¼, but not small enough to
understand 24 frames per second. Technically, at 3 frames per drawing
and 24 frames per second, each drawing is 1/8 of a second.
each other, want to be like their peers.
Grade, when children are age 8 and 9, they:
first multiplication tables, and have learned fractions, so they have
a rudimentary understanding of parts making up a whole, which can be
applied to understanding animation.
and focus on the additive methods of animating, creating a drawing
one step at a time.
trying to tell stories that are too elaborate.
Are able to
draw within a constrained area-the TV frame zone is only for grades 3
Want to tell
stories about their lives, and express emotion.
Grade, when children are age 9 and 10, they:
multiplication and division, and really understand the animation
phenomenon of 24 images or eight drawings creating one second.
optical illusions, such as an increase in the size of an image
creating the appearance of an object getting closer to the viewer.
Are able to
visualize and draw different body positions of characters to create
believable locomotion. This entails visualizing the action in
"slow-motion," which I sometimes act out with the children.
stories in stages, and often draw scene "cuts" into their flipbooks.
Often opt for
the additive method.
scenes based on themes being studied in class, such as Native
Get into the
pure concept of motion, and often create abstract sequences of just
shapes or lines moving.
Grade, when children are age 10 and 11, they:
Start to lose
ability to create simple good animation because of their stronger
urge to tell complex stories. Comic books may be more appropriate for
this age. They are too impatient to focus on something simple without
Often use the
additive process to create an image, then subtract to make it disappear.
sports action like skateboarding, baseball and basketball.
develop personal style and a desire to be creative and original.
depict violence such as accidents, rockets, explosions.
influences, wanting to depict themselves and their friends acting out
in their "movie." Often put their names and other words
into the pages.
they understand the frame rates and sufficiently repeat images, they
rarely make the deduction themselves that words would need to be
repeated for several pages in order to be read.
Grade, when children are age 11 and 12, they:
grasp the concepts of 24 frames per second, and often come up with
amazing concepts for timing, cycles, and economical use of their
drawings. They find ways to make shortcuts.
action, especially sports, violence, etc.
Do very well
with metamorphosis; some more than others.
lines as seen in comic books.
influence gets in the way of true creativity.
Want to depict
vulgar actions and scatological humor, to challenge teachers and
parents, and impress peers.
Want to make
fun of teachers and others.
inhibitions about their drawing ability, which limits what risks they
are willing to take when trying to animate.
Need to own
their images, have an independent identity.
display a sensibility for abstract images.
animation is an art form that combines aspects of several other art
forms and several academic content areas. It can be taught to
students of any age, provided the expectations and instruction are
tailored to match the learning capacities at each level.
Wendy Jackson Hall
State Arts Commission:
(click on "Arts Education")
State Essential Academic Learning Requirements:
LunchBox Sync really is a magical thing... I love the new
model", Wendy Jackson Hall,
Animation Magazine, Aug 2001
out what everyone's saying about the LunchBox