Cartoon Cells

Grade K 1 2 3 4 5



History: Describe ways people are involved in the artistic community.

Criticism:  Describe various aspects in a work of art.

Aesthetics:  Analyze ways art is created as a response to images, forms, nature, and experiences.

Production:  Use multimedia and other technology to create visual imagery and design.


Materials & Preparation: Transparency sheet, Drawing paper, permanent markers, acrylic paint, watercolors

Vocabulary: cartoon cells


Motivation & Procedure: The animation process is a very sophisticated type of filmmaking involving many steps. The development of characters and storylines is as important as the drawing itself. Animators write storylines and sketch characters on storyboards and then paint hundreds of thousands of cells on acetate. They then arrange and rearrange them while taking photographs/filming. Today we will make our own animation cell. We will use background and foreground to create our cell layers.  The very first filmed animations were drawn -- and filmed -- frame by frame. This meant that an artist had to draw thousands of pictures even for a short film. Consequently, drawings in the earliest cartoons are generally not very sophisticated.  Cell animation, invented in the early part of the 20th century, made it possible to create the beautifully drawn feature-length animations that the Disney studios are famous for. With cell animation, a scene is separated into layers: characters and props are painted onto clear acetate cells, which are laid over background paintings on an animation stand. A single background painting may appear for several seconds in a scene, with simple camera motions (zoom and pan) changing the view. Then only the characters need to be redrawn from one frame to the next. Further savings may be achieved by having multiple cells for the characters and props, separating the parts that change rapidly from those that don't. Cells may even be reused, with sequences appearing over different backgrounds.

1. On a piece of newsprint trace around your 8x10 piece of transparency. Do the same thing on a piece of drawing paper paper. This will allow you to sketch your idea so it approximates the final piece. Be sure to draw a smaller square ( 1/2 to 1 inch smaller all the way around) inside your 8x10 to account for the tape. Your sketch should include a distinct background and a foreground.
2. When your idea is complete, trace you character onto the transparency. Outline character with a sharpie.  Paint in character with acrylic paint on the back side of the transparency.  3. Now take the piece of white drawing paper with the 8x10 drawn square and using watercolors, complete your background. Remember that in real life, things that are farther away seem bluer and grayer the farther away they get. Periodically take your foreground transparency and place it over the background you are working on to make sure that you are not drawing something that will be hidden by either tape or what you painted on the transparency.
4. Once the background is finished and the foreground is dry, tape the two layers together on all four sides. Cut out a frame in construction paper for your cartoon cell.  Tape your cell to the frame.


Animation is the process of linking a series of slightly different drawings together to simulate movement. There are normally 24 frames per second in moving film.