Frame That 'Toon: Cell Animation Tools for Kids


Since the early 90's, many children's toys have become increasingly digital. Moreover, young children's play-patterns have been expanded to include playful learning using computers and the Internet. By integrating programmable micro-technologies we can allow kids to control their interactions, sometimes program responses, and even create their own interactive media products. On the Internet, there are many fun games for children, but few that offer kids a chance to program short and playful animated stories that can be saved, emailed and shared with other family members and friends. We wanted to encourage kids to learn how to use their imagination to construct their own playful digital stories, with fun characters, sounds, and animation.


Our approach was to offer children, on the Internet, a simple version of cell-animation tools - just like professional animators may use. Important to this environment were opportunities for kids to be lighthearted in the design and construction of their animated cartoon sequences and themes, as well as to tinker with the imagery in each of the cells and easily modify the stories they create. Finally, it was important for children to be able to save and share what they have created with family and friends. We wanted to create an intuitive visual interface that will become contagious, and be used by millions of children from all around the world - whether or not they speak English they should be able to learn how to use it well.


In Frame That 'Toon kids choose one of 10 different characters for their cartoon (e.g., Spaceblob, Leprechaun, Dog, Skaterdude, or Clown). They select an image/pose for each cell, to create the best story sequence for their cartoon. Finally, they select a colorful background, a wacky sound, and decide on the speed of their animation (faster/slower). By simply pressing a button, "Go," their cartoon comes to life as an audiovisual animated filmstrip. Any of the variables (cell imagery, sound effects, background, and speed) can be modified again and again in the design process. Once they've created and saved their cartoon, children can save it and send it to friends or parents by email.


During March 2000 and March 2002, 162,000 cartoon animations have been saved on, and over a million of them were emailed by children. It became a "viral" activity for MaMaMedia members. Children often re-invent their animation sequences time and again online, changing the speed, the sound or the poses to get it "just right" before saving and naming it, and sending to their parents or friends. It's hard not to smile when you see their finished products!

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