Art lesson resource: Split pin characters

Here is an extended task to go with the animation project we normally do with Year 7. This is actually suitable (with adaptation) for Year 5 or 6. Some of this is fairly straight forward but does require some technical know-how. I will include an example character resource below.

What you will need

  • Cereal boxes or thin white card
  • Scissors
  • Choice of colour technique; paint, felt tips etc.
  • Split pins (essential)
  • Green cloth
  • Camera
  • Computer to create final cartoon


Still image from Ivor the Engine

To accompany the many types and methods of animation, it is worth showing students Oliver Postgate’s work, especially Ivor the Engine.

The story behind the artist and Smallfilms:


There are many templates for split pin characters (here is a split pin model free resource), however, for Year 7 we like to get students to develop their own ideas in a sketchbook. These can be story related or based on characters by Sjors Vervoort like ours. Here you can see development of my example character; a cheeky fox.


Next transfer the character outline to card (use thin card like cardboard cereal boxes as easier to cut with scissors). Use an appropriate method to add colour but remember to separate arms, legs and head or any moveable parts!


Cut out each part carefully. Make a pilot hole using a compass at each split pin position. Attach the split pin carefully. As you can see from the example, I painted the tops of each split pin to match the background colour.


Photograph against your green cloth in a well lit room. Change positions of limbs etc to suggest movement in each frame/photo. Transfer the set of images into the movie editor of your choice or use an app like Doink on iOS.

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 09.59.21

I used iMovie and followed this simple green screen tutorial. I have added a bit of music and sound effects just for fun but this is only supposed to be a screen test. The real fun is getting the students to make their own!




Art lesson resource: Sjors Vervoort animation

Here is a quick and easy introduction to animation suitable for all abilities and a starting point for more complex development. This is a stop-motion making activity that takes about 4 lessons (one hour per week) with Year 7 students but in theory could be done with Year 6 post-SATs as part of an arts activity week. The example above is my test piece.

What you will need:

  • Laptop with either iMovie or MovieMaker
  • Stills camera and tripod or gorilla-pod
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Scissors and possibly a craft knife
  • Powder paints or acrylic paint if you can afford it!
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Blu-tac


Sjors Vervoort is a Dutch artist working in many creative fields. His 2009 short “Cardboard” has been screened worldwide. More information here.

“Muto” by Blu is a more conventional form of graffiti but animated! Brought to life over many walls and scansion Europe, Blu creates an alternate reality for his creations.

As starting points we can see a development from simply taking a character ‘for a walk’ to complex, surreal stories.


Sketchbook work initially focussed on the development of imaginary creatures; not quite animals or monsters and featuring potentially expressive faces or movement.

Key ideas also included shape, colour and scale but also repeatability – offering students to try out each others’ designs. This refinement was invaluable before drawing out on cardboard.

Identifying movable components came next including accessories, limbs and details. Elements of storytelling start to emerge as the character acquires items such as sunglasses, headphones etc. Also essential at this stage is teamwork; cardboard is an ideal medium for three or four students to collaborate and complete designs efficiently.


Next step includes cutting the character from the cardboard box. As Vervoort shows a rough outline, the main body needn’t be precisely cut. Limbs etc are more important to cut to the edge. For this purpose craft knives are ideal when used carefully!

Left: See that the character has been re-outlined with a black marker as have limbs etc. The eyes are left pupil-less so that they can feature in the animation – moving, growing and blinking.

When taking the photos, blu-tac is best for attaching limbs and accessories and also for the main body to be attached to walls in an upright way.


Writing a bit of a storyline is best done in the art room using a storyboard of at least 6 boxes; 2 each for start, middle and end. Start boxes shouldn’t be focussed on titles but should answer “Who” and “Where”. The middle boxes can be “What” and “Why” offering an element of a problem to be solved or a journey undertaken. Finally the remaining resolution boxes can represent “How”, ie. how has the character solved the problem. This is an element offering opportunities for differentiation, literacy and narrative storytelling. It is important that the location of events can be represented within the art classroom though.


I used a stills camera on a cheap tripod, taking around 40 photos but I could have done it with a lot less! Simply drop the photos into a desktop folder and import into your video editor of choice (either iMovie or MovieMaker are more than adequate). Select all (cmd-A or ctrl-A) and reset duration to either 0.5 or 0.25 seconds. Aim for 12 frames per second and use repeated photos as much as possible to get rid of the jerkiness. Six frames per second works for a rough cut to see that you have animated your character successfully. This aspect takes at least 40 minutes to an hour.

Kids’ feedback

“The YouTube cartoon (sic. Vervoort’s) was like nothing I have seen before.”

“My team made four creatures who took part in a chase around the wall. We want to add Benny Hill music.”

“We made an explosion then decided how it would be part of the story. We worked as a pair and found it easy to share out jobs.”

Art lesson resource: Flash animation

We are used to seeing stop-motion animation (Wallace and Gromit style) or hand drawn examples like the wonderful Bob Godfrey’s Rhubarb and Custard. If resources are available in your school to access an ICT suite for a series of lessons, you might findAdobe Flash as a potential art resource. There are many different uses for animation, from fine art, graphic communication to simple slideshows, advertising banners, audio-video multimedia and games.

What is the role of the animator? Why have specific styles of animation been used?

Some creative examples


Reasons for using animation on web sites:

  • Attention grabbers
  • Banner with/without interactive elements (e.g. games, buttons, music)
  • Adverts
  • Movies
  • Games and entertainment
  • Menus and buttons


Flash tutorial screencasts can be accessed here.

Basic actionscript Powerpoint

How to make a Flash web page in Apple Keynote: interactkeynote.ppt

Having tried this out with Y8 over the last few years, best results can be obtained using a mouse rather than auto shapes or clip art. Simplicity also works best – lines against a white background rather than trying to be too sophisticated. Key elements that can be taught using Adobe Flash are:

  • Timelines – animations are simply drawings over time
  • Onion-skinning
  • Stage – and off stage as metaphors for the workspace
  • ‘Boning’ – joints

Adobe Flash also allows for importing .wav sound files and exporting finished movies as .mov to be played on Quicktime player.


Chia (7) loves Moshi

My 7 year old loves to play on the Moshi Monsters web site ( Not only has it meant I can’t get near a laptop in the early evening, she is inspired by the imaginative characters and the interactive features. She can talk for ages about the shops, games and interior design (!) aspects. Given some plasticine and a camera to play with one afternoon, she insisted that her sister help her make an animation about Moshi Monsters. This is it:

She then went on to write me a report on why she should be able to play it at school:

On Moshi monsters you have your own monster and then you get your own house!!!! You can click on the door to go outside and buy things outside is like a map. You can click on the places you wold (sic) like to go. and by things. You press scroll to move your moshi left and right.. if you click another moshi monster you make friends with them. After you’ve ben shoping (sic) you might wont to play some puzzles time challange (sic) or hall of puzzles on time challange its a challnge  hall of puzzles you choose a puzzle and on to play. If you click on your pet it tickles it your pets eyes follow your mouse when it moves. You get your own garden and you can plant 3 seeds to get your own pet a pet!!! At the side of the house is some writing and pictures one is your pets happy and its tempiture (sic)…

and theres lots more youve got a box at the side of the screen and if you click on it, it will have all of the wallpaper. Now that’s all you need to know. Good luck and play it.

So that’s Chia’s review! She isn’t allowed to play it at school but must chat with friends about it and although they don’t live nearby they can play together in the evening in this virtual world.

Autodesk Maya introduction (Game design)

Having just completed a C&G certified Maya course, I can navigate the kitchen looking for right-clicks to open cupboards and sub-menus that will make toast. It’s surprising how wrapped up you get in an interface after continuosly working with it for 18 hours (or perhaps not). Pity the poor s*ds who have to work on major Maya projects for months on end – although the end results are stunning.

So the 3 day course involved 3d object modelling, geometry, animation techniques, rendering and more. Next time I see some cgi on Dr Who I’ll be a lot more appreciative of the work that went into it. Next step is to build on my limited skills and draw up a plan to teach kids some simple animation techniques. This software is far more versatile than the ubiquitous Flash that seems to be everywhere. If you want to try out Maya for research/education then download the PLE version from the Autodesk website –

By the way, I did my level 1 with Warren Fearn from Wak studios – his showreel and examples are well worth a visit (and he is a good tutor). Google “WAK Studios” and you’ll come across the latest site. You’ll recognise some of his work from the BBC.