An introduction to animation

The chances are that stop-motion animations were a core part of your childhood. From films such as the Wallace and Gromit series, to the magical scenes in 1960s film Jason and the Argonauts, stop-motion animation is a cornerstone of our creative language.

You may have already tried your hand at animation before, or perhaps you’ve always thought it would just be too difficult or complicated. In this section we’ll not only dispel that myth but we’ll show you how animations can be created that will engage and challenge your learners.

One of the fundamental components of animation is the ‘frame’. All animations are created from still frames (photographs), joined together and played back to create the illusion of movement. This illusion is called the ‘persistence of vision’ and is the principle that flick books are based on. You can try this out using the Flick book activity in the extension activity at the bottom of this step.

To understand stop-motion animation, it may be useful to look at the work of photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

In 1872, Muybridge undertook a number of ‘studies in motion’, one of which attempted to answer a question of scientific debate – whether a horse has all four feet off the ground at any one time when it was galloping. This issue had aroused the curiosity of scientists for many years, mainly because the human eye wasn’t able to break down the movement of the horse’s legs enough to study them.

Using 12 different cameras, Muybridge was able to prove, by taking a large number of stills in quick succession, that horses do indeed have all four legs off the ground at their highest point when they gallop. To learn more about early animation please take a look at the Early Animation resource in the Downloads section.

Muybridge Horse Image repeated many times

Muybridge (1872)

Interestingly, it was also found that if these images were shown one after the other in quick repetition, they appeared to recreate the smooth gallop of the horse in motion. This discovery followed the rules of ‘persistence of vision’, in which multiple, discrete images blend into a single image in the human mind when played together at speed. Take a look at the video above to see what happened when Muybridge’s images were put together. Please note that this film is silent.

It can be very useful (and fun!) to carry out some simple, non-technical animation activities with your students before you start any animation project. That could be getting them to create their own flick book (using sticky notes) or creating a thaumatrope.

Use our Make a Thaumatrope template attached below to test out the ‘persistence of vision’ theory for yourself. A thaumatrope is a disc with a different image on both sides which, when spun, appears to blend the two images together. The template attached uses a bird and a cage, giving the effect of a caged bird.

Thaumatrope Activity Image

Using the thaumatrope activity

  1. Cut out the circles, then make a hole (or use a hole-punch), in the shaded circles to the left and right of each image.

  2. Stick the two circles of paper together, making sure to keep one image upside down. Match up the holes on both pieces so that they line up with each other.

  3. Attach one piece of string to each of the two holes.

  4. Finally, spin the two pieces of string quickly in your fingers to see the optical illusion.

By giving young people the opportunity to do these activities themselves, you are taking a big step toward managing their expectations. This is one of the key things to do with your class when it comes to animation as they’ll often expect to produce a 10 minute animation in one lesson! The reality is somewhat different as animations can take a laboriously long time to create, and these activities show just how many small frame-by-frame movements are needed to create a smooth transition between shots.

In the next step we’ll look at an example of a student-made stop-motion animation before asking you to make your own very simple animation.

Extension Activity

If you wish to develop this activity further, please download the Into Film-created extension activity resources here. The Flick book activity on page 28 of the Animating Africa resource is a particularly fun way to relate to the content on this step of the course.

The Early Animation resource is also available here in the Downloads section if you wish to extend your learning.

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This video is from the free online course:

Developing Literacy: A Journey from Still Image to Film

Into Film