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Hands-on activity: animating Luxo Jr.

Begin your career as an animator now!

A Ball’s Life

This is a hands on activity designed to follow the first lesson. It is a series of hand-drawn challenges which will introduce some basic animation principles and get you thinking about the physics of motion.
This lesson consists of three challenges.
  • Challenge 1—all ages (30-40min)
  • Challenge 2—Ideal for grades 4-8 (35-45min)
  • Challenge 3—Ideal for grades 4-8 (30min + homework)


  • post-it-note pad
  • pencil and eraser
  • extra paper for planning: grid paper is nice

Step 0: Review (~45 min)

In advance of this activity you should go through the first lesson at your own pace.

Step 1: Introduce challenge 1—straight ahead animation (~5 min)

One of the first things all new animators have to do at Pixar is animate a lamp and ball. In this activity you’ll sit in the seat of an artist and tackle a series of similar challenges. We’ll ask you to create some important effects all animators must be familiar with.
To see what's possible with frame by frame animation watch this video featuring Pixar animator Rob Jensen
Khan Academy video wrapper
Getting to know Rob JensenSee video transcript
Okay, now it's your turn. Your life as an animator begins ...

Step 2: Distribute Materials (~5 min)

  • post-it-note pad
  • pencil and eraser
  • extra paper for planning: grid paper is nice

Step 3: Straight ahead animation warm-up (~15-20 min)

First let’s focus on the ball and make an animation of it bouncing once vertically. The length of your animation should be fewer than 20 pages/sheets. Do this quickly and without any planning. But ask yourself one question: Is your ball happy, or sad? Can you animate it to express that emotion?
  • Start your animation from the bottom page up.
  • This will allow you to see through to the previous frame easily by pushing down on the next sheet.
When you finish
  • Keep practicing on the same pages!
  • Can you color a stripe on your ball to make it look like it’s spinning?
  • Try adding a rocket ship, Luxo lamp, an animal or anything else!
  • Try recording your animation using a camera or phone.

Step 4: Group discussion (~5 min)

  • Were you able to make a realistic bounce? What makes it realistic?
  • How did you make your ball look sad or happy?
  • Did the ball return to the same height it dropped from? Why or why not?
  • Did you color the ball? What did you learn?

------End of challenge 1------–––

Step 5: Introduce challenge 2—pose to pose animation. (~ 5min)

Next, the director has a very specific request. She needs a 20 frame animation of a ball which drops straight down from the sky and bounces twice on ground. This time, you should draw using pose-to-pose animation. This means you’ll need to identify the key poses first, and then worry about the in-between frames.
But first ask yourself one question: What material is your ball made of? There are two things you should think about when picking your imaginary material:
  • Is your ball heavy or lightweight?
  • Is your ball squishy or stiff?
Think about how those questions will affect the motion of the ball. It might be helpful to draw a chart to help organize your thinking. It’s also a good time to look at some real world examples.
Squishywater balloonrubber ball
Stiffbowling ballplastic ball
Once you’ve decided on a material, you should reconsider how your ball feels. Can you make it look depressed?

Step 6: Setup (~10 min)

Before drawing you should do some basic planning:
  • Number the corner of each frame from 1-20: 1 on the bottom page, 2 on the next page, etc.
  • Sketch a timing chart to plan the motion over 20 frames.
  • Think about all the key poses needed for your animation. Key poses are the most important events in the timing sequence, such as when the ball hits the ground or is high in the air.

Step 7: Animate (~15 min)

Now you can draw your ball. This time consider drawing your key poses first to make sure your timing is correct for the scene. Then you can fill in the other frames in order.
When you finish
  • Try adding some more detail to your ball, or add another character to your scene.
  • If you have access to a camera, try recording your animation.

Step 8: Group discussion (5-10 min)

  • How did you make your ball look like the imaginary material you chose?
  • Do balls actually squish when they hit surfaces? Why or why not?
  • Did the ball return to the same height after each bounce? Why or why not?

------End of challenge 2------

Step 9: Introduce challenge 3—realistic arcs (~20 min)

Next the director has a request for an upcoming scene. She needs a 16-frame animation of a lamp jumping across the frame. It should start in one corner, fly up into the air, and land on the other side of the frame. Remember it should crouch down in anticipation before it jumps and follow through when it lands. It’s up to you how high the lamp goes, but it should travel through the air in a realistic way. As long as it looks realistic, the director will be happy.
Remember to plan your key poses first!
When you finish
  • Try adding some more detail to your lamp.
  • Try recording your animation using a camera or phone.

Step 10: Discussion (~5 min)

  • What kind of path did the lamp follow through the air? What makes that path realistic?
  • What kind of animation curve would work well if you did this on the computer?
  • Did the horizontal velocity of the lamp change as it flew through the air?
  • Did the vertical velocity change? Why?

Homework: Make your own animation

Using the other side of the pad, make an animation with at least 50 frames. First you should read up on the 12 basic animation principles and include at least three of them in your animation.

Challenge questions to submit or discuss

  • What basic principles of animation did you use?
  • What was the hardest part of your animation, and would a computer help you?
  • Do you think computer animators need to be good at hand drawn animation? Why?
  • If you were to make the same animation on the computer, what avars would you need and why?
  • What kind of interpolation would you need? Linear or bezier?
By participating in this activity, you acknowledge that similar characters may be independently created and you agree to waive any claims against Pixar or Khan Academy for any similarities between the images you produce and independently created characters.

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