Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The History of Animation and Film Unit Study: Part Two

This unit study is inspired by Walt Disney World's park Disney's Hollywood Studio. We have never been to Disney World but are playing with the idea of a 2015 vacation there. Our unit studies are our fun and educational way to build excitement for that adventure.

We just recently returned from a whirlwind trip to San Marcos, Ca, for a wedding, a week at the Disneyland and California Adventure Park, and the Tinker Bell Half Marathon on Sunday. I am exhausted! Check back later for pictures of the trip and the race!

Before we left, Aidyn and I learned all about early film history from the 1820s to 1919. To see Part One where we watched early films and made a zoetrope, click here.

We watched some early silent films, including Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops and some very early Charlie Chaplin films while he worked with Mack Sennett.

Mack Sennett's An Interrupted Elopement (1912)

Mack Sennett's The Bangville Police (1914) First appearance of Keystone Kops

Mack Sennett's Making a Living (1914) First appearance by Charlie Chaplin

We read about Mack Sennett in his youth and how he dreamed of making movies with the book Mack Made Movies by Don Brown.

This is such a sweet book about his determination to realize his dream. It also echoed some terms we have been learning such as slapstick, Kinetoscope, nickelodeons, and other movie-related vocabulary.

Mack Made Movies inspired interest in Charlie Chaplin, so we watched snippets of the film Chaplin (1992 with Robert Downey Jr. as Chaplin). I would not recommend children watch this movie straight through as there are some scenes involving nudity that may be inappropriate to young viewers. I had seen the movie many times so I was careful which scene to choose.

Chaplin (1992) trailer

We watched scenes about his early childhood, vaudeville performances, unstable mother, and fascination with film. We also watched all scenes with Mack Sennett (played by Dan Aykroyd) and compared what we saw to the book.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Aidyn and I began reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a graphic-heavy dark novel about an orphaned clock keeper boy with secrets. Later in the book, we will meet Georges Melies, whom we have become familiar with in the last few weeks with his films The Vanishing Lady (1896), The Haunted Castle (1896) first horror film, our favorite A Trip to the Moon (1902), and Cinderella (1912).

While we were at Disneyland, we learned a bit more about animation and early film with a tour of the Disney Animation building inside Disney California Adventures.

Fun animator's desk at Off the Page

Inside the Animation building

We were fascinated by a Toy Story zoetrope inside and must have watched it for a solid ten minutes.

The zoetrope was a circular stand with Toy Story figurines in slightly different motions. As the zoetrope spins and the lights blink on and off, the figures appear to move.

Here is a video (not mine) of the Toy Story zoetrope:

After checking that out, we headed to the Animation Academy where we learned to draw Goofy from a real animator. At this point, we were so involved in the activity, I forgot to take pictures!

Here's a video (not mine) of the Animation Academy drawing Mickey Mouse.

Over on Main Street in Disneyland, completely by accident, we stumbled upon a few coin-operated mutoscopes.

Inside were flipbooks that turn as the viewer cranks the handle. We found one entitled "The Adventures of Charlie Chaplin." What luck!

"Forbidden Sweets" was aptly named for this mutoscope inside The Candy Palace.

We are still having a blast with this unit study, so check back soon for more. This week we're exploring cartoons and films from the 1920s including Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Felix the Cat, Charlie Chaplin, and early Mickey Mouse shorts. 

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!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Looking Back at 2013 and Ahead to 2014

January 2013~

Night of the Moonjellies~David's birthday~Karate~Space unit study~

February 2013~

Domino Rally~Learning about Lincoln~Adventure Time

Disneyland family trip~Aidyn's first time on Indiana Jones~Beautiful memories~Screaming on Goofy's Sky School~ Laughing at the Aladdin show~

March 2013~

Chaffee Zoo trip~Forestiere Underground Gardens~India unit study~Water tornadoes~Forts in the living room~Bowling on Sundays~Birthday bowling with Grammy Tami~Easter

April 2013~

Some good and some bad in April...

Making custom shirts~Aidyn's first official running race in Lancaster, Ca~Family trip to Charlie Brown Farms~Mini-getaway to Disneyland~Aidyn's first time on Autopia~David in the hospital with double pneumonia~David SURVIVED double pneumonia~Apples unit study

May 2013~

Spooky Storytimes~Forts in the dining room~Avocado ice cream~David's recovery

Summer 2013~

Water balloon fights~Outdoor play all day with friends~Library shows with friends~Reading books~Playground fun at friend's house

August 2013~

First day of second grade~Spelunking at the Moaning Caverns

Back to school~Saxon Math~Story of the World~Ancient Civilizations~Making a Shaduf~Mama goes to school to finish Bachelor's Degree

September 2013~

Surprise trip to Disneyland for my best friend, Amanda

Surprise morning visit~Driving and chatting on the way~Paper sculptures at Denny's~Reservations mix-ups~Breakfast at Tiffy's~Excitement~Little Mermaid ride~Screaming ridiculously on Goofy's Sky School~Our first time on Radiator Springs Racers~Halloween decorations~Space Mountain~Indiana Jones~Star Tours~Matterhorn~A million restroom breaks~Yummy Disney desserts and coffee~Monsters Inc.~Dinner at Flo's Diner

Ancient Egypt unit study~Painting a map of Egypt~ Making the Nile River, papyrus and cuneiform tablets~ Apple head preservation experiment~Busy with college~Preparing to move

October 2013~

Moved to a new home in a new town~Yearly Walk for Autism~Enjoying our new backyard~Writing stories~My and David's 12th Anniversary and 11th Wedding Anniversary~Ukulele classes~Art classes

Halloween~Carving pumpkins~Trick-or-treating~Fundraising for AFSP~Running regularly~Still busy-busy at college

November 2013~

Training for the half-marathon~Stellaluna~Ukulele playing~Fall unit study~Friend's wedding

Fire Station field trip~Thanksgiving~31st birthday~Best birthday present ever~

December 2013~

End-of-semester stress for Mama~Running~Winter Stories~Christmas crafts~Making snow and ornaments~Watching Christmas movies~Christmas morning~Aidyn's 8th birthday

Many people claim 2013 was a bad year. It had some rotten moments, most notably David's health scare, but I see it as a year of success because he survived and is now in much better health and working on new physical goals. We had a busy but colorful year with many good memories. I'm thankful for the trials, the growth, and the solidarity each has inspired in us.


Our one-word goal for 2014 is Adventure. We enjoy those moments we spend outdoors, hiking, spelunking, exploring and traveling just as much as we love those magic moments at home. We'd like to create more of both this year.