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Animating Art

Ruben Moreno


In Animating Art, artist/instructor Ruben Moreno takes students on a quick trip through movie-making history and then shows them how they can make their own animations by creating zoetropes. Children will expand their understanding of how film replicates motion and see how movie-making combines science, technology, and art.

Lesson Focus

Students will learn the basics of animation and cinematic motion through building the zoetrope. The emphasis will be on understanding and using the scientific concepts of the phi phenomenon and "persistence of vision" to make an animated strip. Students will learn about the history of animated images and the connection between their animated strips and the process used to develop "movies" through animated cartoons.

Time Requirement

The initial activity takes students 30 minutes to one hour to complete. Allow at least another hour for students to create their own picture strips.

Skill Development

Skills developed by the lesson include visual thinking, measuring, cutting, building, and drawing. The lesson is not about being a "good" artist: Anyone can learn to make a series of images appear to move. Students will learn how to transfer their still images into moving images and to transform their visual images into a series of other moving images.


Animating Art will help students understand light, vision, and film motion as well as how to use visual thinking to build a sequence of images.

Related Artists/Art Works

  • 19th-century mechanical toys (examples are shown in Paper Movie Machines-see the resource list below)
  • Eadweard Muybridge, pioneer in shutter photography. His photographs of horses at Leland Stanford's farm in California chronicled the stride of Kentucky filly Sally Gardner and established that horses do lift all their feet off the ground at once. (See the strips of moving horses included for use in making the zoetrope.)
  • Thomas Edison, photographer and early pioneer in motion picture making
  • Gregory Barsamian, creator of the revolving sculpture at the base of the tower in the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Connections to Educational Standards

The following concepts and skills are used in the process of creating zoetropes:

  • art concepts -- visual composition, use of shape and line, visual thinking, and developing a logical visual sequence
  • music concepts -- rhythm and timing sequences
  • logical and mathematical skills -- determining how many frames are needed to create certain forms of movement such as running or walking
  • kinesthetic and spatial skills -- learning how movement is depicted through animated space and time.

Materials Needed

  • clear plastic cup (short highball style)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • tape
  • pencil
  • protractor/compass
  • ruler
  • black poster board
  • push pins
  • needle-nose pliers

Alternative Materials

In lieu of the black poster board, you can use white poster board and black (matte) poster paint.

Vocabulary Used in the Lesson

  1. animation
  2. frame
  3. kinestasis
  4. magic lantern
  5. persistence of vision
  6. phenaskistoscope
  7. phi phenomenon
  8. stroboscopic
  9. thanumatrope
  10. zoetrope

Lesson Instructions


Before beginning the lesson, make two copies of the horse figure panels on page 38 for each child and one copy of the blank panels (page 39). (Download the Art On-Air Teacher's Guide to get these pages.) You also may want to use a compass to pre-draw 5-3/4" circles on poster board for the children. (Ruben usually cuts the board into pieces, with one circle on a piece, and allows students to cut out the circles themselves.) To provide a mount for the panels, pre-cut the poster board into 3" x 18" strips.

Then instruct the children in the following process:

  1. Cut out the disk and the two riding panels.
  2. Glue the horse figure panels to the tag board. The other side of the poster board should be black for high contrast. (If you don't have black poster board, use black paint.) Cut out slits as marked above the riding figures.
  3. Glue the rider panels together to form a cylinder around the disc (the rider panels go on the inside of the cylinder; the black surface on the outside). Tape the disc to the bottom of the cylinder.
  4. Insert a push pin through the center of the disc and then through the bottom of a plastic cup. Bend the pin from inside the cup with a pair of needle-nose pliers.
  5. Spin the cylinder to achieve the illusion of movement.
  6. Now use the blank panels (on page 39) to create your own animation drawings. These new panels can be placed over the horse panels in your original zoetrope. Or you can follow steps 1 through 4 to create another zoetrope. (You can glue your drawings over the horse figures on a copy of the riding panels so you will have guidelines for cutting slits on your new zoetrope.)

Response to Art

Before the students make their original animation drawings but after they create the zoetropes using the riding figures, discuss what animators need to know in order to draw successful animations. What makes the horse look as though it is really moving? How can students analyze motion in order to create a natural-looking effect?

Exhibition Suggestion

To display your group's animations, collect all the available turntable record players from your media center and/or bring in record turntables from home. Use the moving turntables as portable display stands for your students' work. If you don't have enough to display all the zoetropes, display them on an alternating basis.


Other related projects include making flip books, thanumatropes (a flat disk with pictures on either side that is suspended with string and then spun), and phenaskistoscopes (a wheel of images constructed like a top).


Lafe, Locke. Film Animation Techniques: A Beginner's Guide and Handbook. White Hall, VA: Betterway Publications, Inc., 1992. (ISBN 1-55870-236-9)

Laybourne, Kit. The Animation Book. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1979. (ISBN 0-517-52946-7)

Wenz, Bob. Paper Movie Machines. San Francisco: Troubadour Press, 1975.

Related Links

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Last Updated: Monday, 29-Dec-2008 15:23:24 EST