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DIY Cartoons on a Budget

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How cool would it be to be able to make your own cartoons—and do it on the cheap? That was the subject of the latest installment of the Hirshhorn’s Art Lab—a program designed to get teens involved in the arts. Kids from far and wide—some as far away as Hungary—came in to get the lowdown on how to make it happen.

Peter Burr and Christopher Doulgeris of Hooliganship—a creative team that uses animation as a centerpiece in their unique brand of performance art— helmed the three-hour crash course in cartoons. They kicked off the evening by showing examples of their work as well as the short film “Muto” by Italian animator Blu.

And then the main event: after the teens divvied themselves up into groups of three, Peter challenged each team to create a five second looping animation—meaning the animation had to begin and end with the same image—in ninety minutes. (This boils down to about a drawing per minute after you figure in time for three total strangers to make friendly and hammer out a game plan for their first collaborative oeuvre d’art).

Before they began, Peter offered a few assurances: the rules of logic or gravity are totally irrelevant and it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what’s happening. Don't worry about every drawing being perfect. Embrace all things confusing.

For supplies, each team had a dry erase board, markers, erasers and a digital camera. Hands began madly scrawling on the boards, and after an image was completed, someone snapped a picture. Erasers went to work and the kids drew the next frame of their animated film and repeated the process at breakneck speeds, building their little films image by image.

An hour and a half later (and after downloading the digital camera images onto a laptop) I got to see the end results. Most teams achieved the five second mark and the subject matter ranged from the very abstract (lines dancing and morphing) to the very literal (a hot air balloon rising and popping mid-air). I left the studio pondering what sorts of bizarre images I could set into motion using the simple things I have around my apartment.

Of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Did any of you have a Lite Brite as a kid? Still have it? Some people have used this staple of childhood entertainment as an inroad to animation. Check out a couple examples, such as these two music videos.

Always keep in mind that you don’t need to get fancy to turn out an awesome end product. Animator Don Hertzfeldt animates stick figures and his short film “Rejected was nominated for an Oscar. (Note: “Rejected” contains very dark humor and is not recommended for persons who get thrills and chills from watching the Smurfs.)

Also, the family-friendly "The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics" is just that: dots, lines and beautifully animated abstract forms. (This one took home the gold statuette.)

Have you made your own animations? If you have your pieces posted online, share your work and post the links in the comments area below, and we may feature the best in a future post.

Animation: "La Singe-de-Chausettes Qui Marche" Jesse Rhodes, 2005

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About Jesse Rhodes

Jesse Rhodes is an editorial assistant for Smithsonian magazine. Before he became an editorial assistant, Jesse worked at the Library of Congress Publishing Office, where he was a contributor to the Library of Congress World War II Companion.

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