Monday, January 6, 2014

The History of Animation and Film Unit Study: Part One

Our family is still playing around with the dream completely realistic goal of going to Walt Disney World in the near future (i.e., before I die), and Aidyn's been intrigued by animation lately. I decided (for the heck of it) to take us on a Disney World-inspired unit study adventure.

First stop, according to Aidyn: Disney's Hollywood Studios, so we can learn about animation.

Got it.

Little did I realize how challenging it is to find anything remotely "academic" in the realm of animation. Then I knew I was kidding myself. We are homeschooling, after all. We can learn any way we like!

So here's what we did:

I made a timeline, from roughly 1820 to the present. I printed blank timeline sheets (TL-5) from, and sectioned each page to accommodate a decade. I pinned them on the wall before starting and printed up some pictures of Aidyn, his dad and me, and his grandma to plot on our birth years for reference.

Pinning his own picture to 2005

Mama and Daddy in the early '80s

And Grandma in '44

Prior to the lesson, I printed small pictures of important moments in animation history including:

-the invention of the thaumatrope, phenakistoscope, zoetrope, and praxinoscope
-creation of "The Humorous Phases of Funny Faces," "Gertie the Dinosaur," "Colonel Heeza Liar," and Felix the Cat from 1919
(I basically borrowed them online. Thank you, Google Images!)

Together we watched "The Story of Animation" on YouTube and placed new pictures on the timeline along the way.

We talked and joked about how primitive early animation was and how one invention slowly led to another.

Afterward, we brainstormed  our impressions of early animation from 1820 to 1919. He described how they looked and characters he liked as I transcribed it. I also asked him to write one interesting thing and a question he still had. He wrote that he liked Gertie the Dinosaur and how she threw the woolly mammoth in the lake. He wondered (a little ahead of time, since we haven't covered this yet) how Walt Disney lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

We both observed the violence in early cartoons but admit to laughing at them. I explained slapstick comedy to him, and he remembered The Three Stooges.

We also made a zoetrope. I remember making one in 7th grade (I had a cool music/animation teacher somehow), so I figured it wouldn't be too hard.

Just in case, we watched this how-to video a dozen times:

Aidyn practicing some sketches.

Drawing animation on the cels. 

"A guy running," he says.


I'm pretty sure he will appreciate television and instant cartoon availability much more now...

We still have a far way to go. Next time, we'll be learning about the history of film and tracing both animation and film through the decades. 

Check back to see what we do!


  1. I just discovered your blog and I love it! This is a great post - thanks for the link to the zoetrope video. I bookmarked it to do with my kids.

    1. Thank you, Cheryl. Glad you found it useful. We had a blast with that unit study.

  2. Thank you so much for these ideas!! In preparation for a trip to WDW this fall, I've been compiling a big WDW study with all kinds of off-shoots. This will fit in perfectly as we move into our MGM-Studios part next week!

    1. Tricia, I'm so glad you find it useful! I'm just tickled there are other parents out there homeschooling Disney themes. Great minds think alike, eh? I have a limited amount of WDW topics, but search around for our Disneyland unit studies as they can transfer over nicely to WDW as well.

  3. Great Blog Post! We are preparing to work on a film history unit study. The books in the pic look like a great go along. Do you have them listed somewhere?