Making pictures move

5th December 2003 at 00:00
Explore children's love of animation by showing them how to bring their drawings and stories to life. Martin Child reports

Animation plays a large part in children's visual experience. New realities can be created and extraordinary or impossible events can happen in colourful and exciting ways. Tapping into this artificial world is a great way to expand pupils' creative experiences. Animations also deal with time, the fourth dimension.

Time is an element of visual perception which shouldn't be ignored. One obvious way of doing this is to make a sequence of drawings or photos.

Next, find a way of stringing the images together to create the illusion of movement. The Victorians were fascinated by this notion and invented the term "persistence of vision", where the brain fills in the blanks when viewing a quick succession of still images. Many inventions demonstrated the idea and pupils love to create these simple devices.

The simplest is the thaumatrope, which is a small disc with an image on both sides. There could be a bird on one side and a cage on the other, for example. String is attached and when the disc is spun the bird appears to be sitting in the cage.

The phenakistoscope consists of a larger disc with regular slots around the edge. A sequence of drawings is then made between the slots. When it's spun in front of a mirror the illusion of movement is easily created. A good way to manage this activity in the classroom is to make a cardboard disc and photocopy sheets for pupils to draw on and stick to the disc to view their animations.

The zoetrope, which is easily made from a biscuit tin and an old record turntable, is a cylinder with slots cut around the edge. When it's spun a sequence of drawings within the tin become animated. Again, pupils can be given strips of paper to attach to the device.

These methods of animation show a continuous sequence of images, so they don't have a starting point or an ending. The simplest way of showing this is with a flip-book. Try this before embarking on fully-fledged animation.

Point out to the pupils that the reason for creating an animation is to tell a story. They need to work out some good ideas and create storyboards before they start making their film.

Disney and other animation companies traditionally used movie film to photograph each frame. This is time-consuming, but making drawings directly on to a computer can produce quicker results. Alternatively, you can create a set of pictures showing progressive movement and then take a sequence of photos to depict this. This can have brilliant results - take the movie Chicken Run (pictured left), for example. In school, however, progress is invariably slow, with a very real danger that catastrophe will strike and things will get moved between filming sessions. Instead, try using a digital camera for the short sequences and then animate them with software.

Another way of creating a film is via three-dimensional modelling, where a computer calculates and creates the animation. This method is used in special effects and computer games, but the programs are complex and pricey.

To follow "Animating art", the national curriculum's suggested schemes of work at key stage 3, try some of the simple Victorian methods first. Use animation software such as Complete Animator, Revelation Natural Art or Animation Shop to develop ideas into a short film.

For KS2, or early KS3, Revelation is great as it enables a simple animation to be easily built up. It has good painting tools and, as with all three programs, it has "onion skins", which allow the previous drawing in a sequence to be seen faintly on the following frame to aid transition.

Animation Shop, which is part of Paint Shop Pro, is the simplest program for animating a sequence of digital photos. Both of these programs are great for silent movies.

If you need an all-singing and dancing program (literally), then The Complete Animator is much more sophisticated, but it still retains a user-friendly interface. The only drawback with this program is that it's an old design that only supports 256 colours and doesn't recognise JPEGs (a standardised image compression format). In spite of these limitations it's probably the best animation program around for education.

ResourcesPaint Shop Pro 8 (includes Animation Shop). Digital Workshop pound;99.95 inc VAT Tel: 0870 120 Revelation Natural Art (PC only) Logotron pound;49 plus VATTel: 01223 425558www.logo.comComplete Animator Iota Software pound;84.26 plus VAT, pound;3.50 postage and packagingTel: 01223 Animation Site www.angrykid.comBritish Film Institute Education (National Grid for Learning)www.filmeducation.orgJerry Beck's Cartoon Researchwww.cartoonresearch.comBooksCracking Animation - The Aardman Book of 3D Animation By Nick Park, Peter Lord, Brian SibleyThames amp; Hudson pound;16.95Encyclopedia of Animation Techniques By Richard TaylorFocal Press pound;16.99

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