September 16, 2008

Kitchen Table Crafts: Simple Animation

Since most kids love watching cartoons, why not teach them a little bit about how animations are created? This craft is one of the simplest ways to show kids how cartoons "move" due to the subtle changes in two or more images. It takes thousands of drawings to just make a short cartoon. In an animated cartoon or movie, one second requires about 12-18 drawings! Most animated films today rely on computer generated images (CGI) so the work in some ways is a little easier.

The craft below is a 2-frame animation, where one image "changes" to another in the blink of an eye. This great website has some other paper animation projects that you can try too.

What You Need:
1 piece of stiff paper (no bigger than 4"x6")
2 pieces of white copy paper (same size as stiffer paper)
markers/crayons/colored pencils
glue stick

What You'll Do:
1. Draw a simple picture on one of the sheets of copy paper. Too much detail will make it difficult to see the animation. Bouncing balls work well.
You can color it now or wait until you finish the second drawing.

2. For the second "frame" of the animation, you want to keep many of the first drawing's elements the same, but change a few to make it "move." For example, I decided to change the facial expression, the arms and a foot. If you make too many dramatic changes, the animation won't look like it's moving.

You can either freehand your first drawing, or do like I did and trace it while holding it up to a window (and not tracing the parts that will change).
Don't be cheap, I mean, a good recycler, like me and use paper with lines on the back, unless you can still see the drawing amidst those extra lines.

3. Once you've traced all of the parts that aren't going to change, bring the drawing back to the table and draw the parts that will change (ie. move). Color both drawings.
4. Glue the first drawing, the background one, to the stiff paper with a glue stick. This will help keep the first paper flat when you are moving the top paper during the animation. You could start out on the stiff paper, but it's a little harder to trace the other image, since light doesn't shine through stiff paper when you hold it up to the window.

5. Staple the second drawing at the top to the first drawing, which will be underneath.
2-3 staples at the top should work just fine.

6. With a pen or pencil, tightly roll the top drawing up to the top.
Once rolled, you'll move the pencil quickly up and down, repeatedly exposing and hiding the bottom image with the top image. This will trick your eye into thinking that the image is moving. You should keep at least a bit of the top paper curled around the pencil while doing this.

Here's an example from one of my students, who was illustrating a jumping girl (hence the motion lines underneath her feet)
In my experience, these can keep kids entertained for hours once they know how to make them. I love that they use few materials, and ones that are easily available in your home. Have fun!


  1. Very cool! Please tell me you did this tutorial a long time ago, and not with an active 5-month-old!
    How do you DO it?!?

  2. Neat idea! I'll have to try that sometime when my son isn't constantly in my face, and when I feel a little braver!

  3. Well I'm off to get the proper paper. I just love the Kitchen Table Crafts; what a wonderful idea!

    Thanks Kathleen for proving that I truly have no time management skills whatsoever! Obviously he's still napping?


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