How young can students grasp the concepts of animation?


Over the past 3 years or so I’ve been tutoring students in animation and digital art. Their ages have ranged from 10 to 23. This summer was my first experience working with kids in the 6-8 range and they were amazing. I was surprised at how quickly the majority of them picked up on animation concepts that can be challenging for adults.

With a little patience, the students understood the key components to making something that is otherwise inanimate, come to life. For materials, we used Plastilina clay and worked with the iStopMotion app for the iPad ($9.99). The kids all began with operating the camera, they loved it! So how does a 6-year-old grasp the concepts of animation? See for yourself. Here are some clips from my animation summer camp at the Vero Beach Musuem of Art!


How It’s Made.

In my opinion, hand-drawn animation is the most challenging of all; it’s tedious, time consuming and one can become discouraged easily. My students were young but I didn’t want to leave this iconic art form out…so we stuck with a rudimentary flip-book style using yellow sticky notes from the Dollar Tree. Demonstrating each of Disney’s 12 Animation Principles was done by having the class first act out each principle. For the principle ‘squash and stretch’ I had them physically squat down really low and then JUMP in the air. Having them act out these ideas helped with understanding the changes in shape that happens and it’s also a fun ice breaker activity. The simplest way to apply these concepts on paper is with a bouncing ball. Using their yellow sticky notes, each drew out a 24 page animation a ball bouncing across the page. This is easier said than done and a difficult exercise. Not all of them got the idea. However, they were elated when I showed a few examples of their work over the classroom big screen (if you listen carefully you can hear their reactions in the above video).


On the second day, I brought with me a toy alligator I had bought years ago at a 7-11 gas station. I always had the intention of animating him but now was the true test. Could a 6-year-old create a walk using a 4 legged character? Sure can! By having them “pivot” the alligators feet in a shuffle fashion it gave Mr. Gator life. This also gave students the opportunity to apply animation principle #5: follow through and overlapping action. Can you guess what part of the gator that is? That’s right, you guessed it, the tail!

The last 3 days were focused on a final underwater production. After some concept drawings, students constructed their own underwater characters out of the clay. Students then each built set pieces and props (each also brought in a small shell). The final day we spent animating. Students were taught to be mindful of their props and make sure to not kick or jostle any of the set once it had been placed. By the end of the shoot most of the students had become methodical about not kicking the light or nudging the camera too much. The 8-year-old students of the group took a leadership role and communicated with the younger 6 year olds on how many pictures have been taken. For example, when shooting a scene it is common to take 2 pictures instead of 1 to lengthen the animation and smooth out the timing. These extra pictures are called “in-betweens”.

The Challenges & Rewards of Animation

Students quickly discovered it only works when there are no hands visible! Some of the younger kiddos were more about the clay and would remove their character from the set before the scene was finished. But thanks to a software feature called “onion skin” which allows you to view the previous frame overlayed your current shot, the students learned how to replace their character in the scene and match the previous frame. No problem!

Having 16 students gathered around a small table became a challenge. To avoid kicking the camera we set up the camera remotely using the iStopMotion app on my cell phone and had a student trigger the camera using an iPad set up to the side of the room. I think each student left with an appreciation for how animation is made and by working with their hands gave them the ability to create the illusion of life.  Below is our result, enjoy!

Resources: The Illusion of Life –


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A creators blog about all things art, animation and visual storytelling.

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