Analysis 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.
Announcement: Wendy died November 16, 2005.
She was only 32 years old. I did not know her. Looks like a big loss of an animation
who could have continued planting the seed of animation to many more of the young and help keep the art alive.
AWN news about Wendy
Children today 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
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.
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
The 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
Reading and 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
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 being filmed.
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 moving
Add/Subtract: 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 invisible hand.
students 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.
Frame-by-Frame, 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.
In 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."
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 "another one."
capable of tracing one drawing over another. They are better off
drawing something again from scratch.
the outline of their hand on the page, and this is a fun way to animate
for kids who get stuck.
In First 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.
the position of an image sequentially on each page.
the size of an image one page at a time, particularly an increase in
finding 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.
Are influenced 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.
In Second Grade, when children are age 7
and 8, they:
Really grasp morphing, changing shape of an object
slowly. Can change the shape of a complex object.
letters of the alphabet as images.
Frequently use symbols in drawing: sun, moon,
house, star, flower, etc.
Begin to demonstrate an abstract sensibility,
drawing similar shapes or patterns to create an animated design.
learning geometry, and often draw shapes: triangle, square, circle, etc.
definitely 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.
other, want to be like their peers.
Third 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.
grasp and focus on the additive methods of animating, creating a
drawing one step at a time.
Are often trying to tell stories that are too
Are able to draw within a constrained area-the TV
frame zone is only for grades 3 and up.
tell stories about their lives, and express emotion.
Fourth 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.
understand optical illusions, such as an increase in the size of an
image creating the appearance of an object getting closer to the viewer.
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.
for the additive method.
Often depict scenes based on themes being studied
in class, such as Native American culture.
the pure concept of motion, and often create abstract sequences of just
shapes or lines moving.
In Fifth 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 proper supervision.
the additive process to create an image, then subtract to make it
Often depict sports action like skateboarding,
baseball and basketball.
Begin to develop personal style and a desire to be
creative and original.
Begin to depict violence such as accidents,
Have social influences, wanting to depict
themselves and their friends acting out in their "movie." Often put
their names and other words into the pages.
though 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.
Sixth 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.
depict action, especially sports, violence, etc.
well with metamorphosis; some more than others.
lines as seen in comic books.
Social influence gets in the way of true creativity.
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.
own their images, have an independent identity.
display a sensibility for abstract images.
conclusion, 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.
with Stop Motion by Joe Dockery
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