Artful Conversations || Animation for Children: David Ehrlich and the Cleveland Museum of Art Workshop

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


  • National Art Education Association

    Animation for Children: David Ehrlich and the Cleveland Museum of Art WorkshopAuthor(s): Linda C. EhrlichSource: Art Education, Vol. 48, No. 2, Artful Conversations (Mar., 1995), pp. 23-24+33-36Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 09:37

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

    .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


    National Art Education Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to ArtEducation.

    This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 09:37:52 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • Animation for Children:

    David Ehrlich

    modeled form of animation, the condummercial marketplace, yet the ptervasiveness of film and televihsion make it the

    popular art Cleveland Museum that children in the 20th


    Even befost re the museum ofntly, attention has focused, on computer animation.s weThe waiting in equipment and the lobby,

    and rela techniques are ore accessible, and often more engaging, though they require the patience of a saint and the eye of a visionary. A three-minute film can use as many as 3000 drawings, each one drawn with great care t for in e t s ingefore the eye like a scene glimpsed from a moving traln.

    In August 1993,1 observed and participated in workshops in this traditional hand-drawn and hand- modeled form of animation, conducted by the internationally known animator David Ehrlich at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio.3

    Even before the museum officially opened, 21 eager young animators were waiting in the lobby, clutching notebooks. For the next two hours, they were free to create their own world on paper, page by



    This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 09:37:52 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • page, and to watch it move beyond their expectations.

    In his workshops for children, David Ehrlich teaches sequential (serial) thinking, a sense of persistence, analy- sis, and synthesis of new concepts, and, perhaps most importantly, spontaneity. Using flip-books (small bound pads that can be flipped) and animation books (larger note pads on which can be drawn a series of pictures), the children get a good sense of how perspective systems work, and how shapes are transformed.

    During the first day of the workshop, students listen to a general (but brief explanation by Ehrlich of basic animation theory and practice. (He aims to keep abstract discussion to a minimum with the children.) While showing them filmed sequences from work by other children and by established animators, he sometimes pro- jects the films first at normal speed and then at four frames per second to demonstrate how movement is broken down. Figure 2 Ehrlich instructs the students to keep all the changes from one drawing to the next very small, with movement occurring in a basically smooth arc.

    Animation relies for its effect on the capacity of the brain to synthesize indi- vidual images into a continuous sequence-a phenomenon popularity known as persistence of vision. After experimenting with some of the earlier devices for illustrating persistence of vision, such as the thaumatrope and Zoetrope, the students get the chance to produce a sustained series of draw- ings.4 Using flip-books, the children fol- low Ehrlich's instructions to first create line drawings of a moving circle. The

    circle format is a "democratizing force" that allows all students to begin on the same level; new "creatures" emerge as the circle is subtly varied. Only later are individual strengths in drawing dis- played.

    Once the flipbooks are completed, Ehrlich asks the children to create as many "original" characters as they can. From the beginning, he insists that the children create their own styles and not copy from characters they have seen on television or in comic strips. Not only might copying constitute a copyright

    violation, it would also tend to stifle the child's sense of the value of personal design. Ehrlich reminds the children to think with their eyes and hands, and not worry about planning everything in advance.

    The children are then encouraged to animate their favorite character in the larger animation book. Ehrlich occa- sionally circles the room, checking for breaches of continuity in the drawings, adding extra pages where the "jumps" in the action are too extreme, remind- ing the children that margins must be left so the figure does not disappear when filmed (Figure 1). By the end of the second class, the children have their characters moving facial features,

    arms, and legs. Ehrlich then encour- ages them to think about who their characters are, and about what the characters feel, think, want. The answers to those questions will deter- mine the events to take place in the film. The children then can introduce second or even third characters, and backgrounds may be added as needed for narrative and atmosphere.

    By the fourth or fifth class, the last stage begins: the laborious coloring of the same object on each page to ensure continuity when filmed. Ehrlich cau-

    tions the children to keep the backgrounds white, and to keep as much of the object white as possible, because of time limitations. Most of the children heed this advice, but the more determined ones color in waves or trees or large buildings in the background. In one child's animated sequence, "A Seal's Revenge," a purple seal on a rock leaps into the water with an enormous blue splash, and finally catches a green octopus.

    All of the children in the Cleveland workshop are focused on their work, without taking much time to look around to compare their pictures with those of their neighbors. An occa- sional thrown paper wad, or fit of gig- gles, helps the students let off steam without fundamentally breaking the overall mood of concentration. A sense of fun and urgency fills the room, and the tables shake with the intensity of hands drawing (Figure 2). Each child becomes immersed in the creation of an imaginary world, and with bringing it to movement and life. When the two- hour session is over, pads and pencils are taken home, often for more hours of

    (Continued on page 33)


    This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 09:37:52 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • (Continuedfrom page 24)

    work. Title pages are added as the last step in the drawing process.

    A small-group exercise in claymation at the end of the workshop gives the children a chance to unwind, to build fanciful figures, and practice moving and filming them frame-by- frame (Figure 3). For younger students [K-4], clay animation is particularly effective. A sense of relief and exhilaration fills the Cleveland Museum of Art workshop during this project. The group exercise helps the children practice leadership skills and a division of labor, with one child chosen for the "high-status," but easy, job of photographer, while the others are put in charge of moving an individual clay figure of their own design (Figure 4).

    In longer workshops, Ehrlich encourages the children to explore the transformational qualities in the clay.

    They might begin a story with a human figure that becomes fearful, changing it into a little mouse, while the clay background of the room might simultaneously change into a mousetrap. Or, in a "round-robin transformation," one child at a time would begin with the last child's figure, slowly transforming it into something else. One child might begin with a clay portrait of a human head, slowly opening and closing the mouth. The next child then could gradually transform the head into an apple tree, for example, that would drop apples on the ground. The next child could transform the tree into an animal's head and the apples into little gremlins. (Personal correspondence, 1993)

    Later, in a markedly different mood, Ehrlich sits alone in a room that is dark except for the light next to the Super-8 camera, filming each book page by page. After the (unfortunately) lengthy

    Figure 3.

    process of getting Super-8 film developed and transferred to video, each child will receive a copy of the collected animated sequences from the workshop.5 Ehrlich reports: "Children are typically delighted with the results of their efforts. They have accepted on faith that their fragmented drawings will move as single flowing units once they are on film, and children are truly excited to see that what they worked so hard on really does turn out wonderfully."6

    How have these few hours devoted to animation enriched these children's experience of art? On one level, the children have begun to feel "at home" in one of the world's great art museums. The animation workshops can also be seen as building