Illustrations by Ramóna Udvardi

Whether it’s hand-drawn cartoons or stop-motion 3-D, working on an animation project with your child is more than just a nice way to kill an afternoon. Making animated art strengthens self-expression, storytelling skills, and gets your kids thinking strategically, and sequentially. Best of all, you have a fun movie that you and your kids can proudly show off on social media, or maybe even in an animated short film fest, if you’re feeling ambitious.

Depending on how high tech you go, animation can also be a way to engage with kids who are interested in learning computer skills as well. But whether it’s digital or analog, as long as you have a camera with plenty of memory, you and your child can easily create your own animated short with tools you have at home. Here’s how to get started.


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Be Realistic

We all start projects with our kids with the best intentions, only to end up alone in the kitchen long after the child has lost interest, angrily waiting for paint to dry. Not all kids are great at committing to a detail-oriented project for a long period of time — keep this in mind when choosing your medium. The great thing is that you don’t need more than an hour to produce something — even kids with short attention spans can sit long enough to make a Thaumatrope, a spinning toy that has been popular since the 19th century that demonstrates some of the fundamentals of animation.

Kid Loves to Draw? Make a Flipbook!

Like the thaumatrope, flipbooks are a basic form of animation that can be learned quickly — all it takes is a marker and a notebook, or even a pile of sticky notes —just make sure they are the kind that all stick on the same side, and aren’t stuck together accordion style. Of course, like nearly anything, you can also try a virtual version with software like FlipAnim. Check out some cool flipbooks at The Kid Should See This for inspiration.

Great Stop-Motion Shorts Require Planning

To make the most of your time, prep the following for stop-motion projects that will make Gumby look like a pathetic piece of clay:

  • A storyboard, to plot out what you’re shooting ahead of time, which will help get an idea of the “cast,” setting, and other materials needed. Bonus: Storyboarding gives your kid secret reading and writing powers. Creately has numerous kid-friendly storyboarding templates or try a storyboarding software like Storyboard That. You can also just have them write something up in Microsoft Word.
  • Some dedicated space to make your film. It won’t go well if the dog or the little brother destroys the set halfway through the shoot. You can find some tips for setting up a simple but camera-friendly set here.
  • Plenty of space on your device — don’t get caught with “MEMORY ALMOST FULL” on shot #2. You can spring for a dedicated camera but the easiest route may be a steadily mounted tablet, so you can both easily see the screen. You can man the camera yourself or try an app like Stop Motion Studio.

Use These Digital Tools Recommended by Pros

Married professional animators — and parents to a preschooler — Dan Henrick and Kate O’Leary of Chicago’s Cat Suit Studios — recommend the following resources to parent/kid animating teams who are serious about creating a graphic animated masterpiece. (They have also created their own crash course for beginners):

  • If you and your kid love Netflix’s show Puffin Rock, try Moho Debut (formerly Anime Studio Debut), which the show was animated in. The program costs $70, although it sometimes goes on sale. Henrick says its real value comes in its useful tutorial videos.
  • For owners of Nintendo 3DS, Henrick and O’Leary recommend 3D Flipnote Studio, which Henrick says is simple and “works like a virtual flipbook, complete with sound effects.” The downside is that that the program is only available on Nintendo 3DS. “That said,” Henrick adds, “it is the perfect program for kids who want to learn animation.”

Try Screen-Free Ways to go Deeper 

For parents and kids who want to nerd out further (or are looking for holiday gift ideas) check out the following analog additional reading:

  • Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s Illusion of Life: Disney Animationis more or less the bible of animation,” says Henrick. The book includes hundreds of animating tips and includes The 12 Principles of Animation, which Henrick, says “every animator should know.”
  • Bill Peet: An Autobiography. Parents and kids alike can enjoy this gorgeously illustrated memoir by the children’s author and Disney illustrator, which provides its own inspirational tale of how an imaginative kid turned a beloved hobby into a career.
  • “Old school Disney animator Preston Blair also has a book of animation tips for beginners that is totally worthwhile,” says Henrick: Check out Animation 1: Learn to Animate Cartoons Step by Step.

Claire Zulkey is a freelance writer and mother of two in Evanston, IL. You can learn much more about her by going to Zulkey.com.

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