Exhibit reveals science of cartoons

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FCI Too Daycare made a field trip to the COSI Animation exhibit.
FCI Too Daycare made a field trip to the COSI Animation exhibit.

Cartoons have come to COSI for the summer, where a temporary exhibit reveals the scientific secrets behind America’s favorite animations.

It sounds like mayhem in the Animation exhibit at COSI. But this is where families, day camps and scout groups come to learn how moving pictures are made. They can even create a few of their own.

For ten year old Will Strohmeyer, making his own animations is the best part of the exhibit. He says he came to COSI to answer a question he’s been wondering about.

“I wanted to learn about animation that I’ve watched on TV and how it all works,” he said.

The exhibit’s lead designer Lori Erickson, is based in Oregon.

“We really want people to be inspired and to realize that they can be doing science and math and having fun with it,” she said.

The exhibit illustrates the history and essential principles of animation. It shows how to present a series of still pictures so quickly that the human eye is fooled into seeing continuous movement. Staff at COSI activity carts illustrate the idea with demonstrations of flip books, zootropes, and other simple animations.

Exhibit displays allow visitors to make their own films by arranging and rearranging objects. They take a series of still pictures, then play the pictures back at high speed to create an animation. Will Strohmeyer explained how he made his own film.

“We were working on a motion picture with shapes such as hexagons squares and circles,” he said. “I made a race with the shapes, then took a bunch of pictures, and then pressed play, and all of them went racing together.”

Meanwhile Will’s mom, Julie Strohmeyer, took in the exhibit from a different persepctive.

“It’s fascinating watching the children discover how cartoons are made, and how they become better and better with animation just with each go-round,” she said.

There’s more to animation than just showing a series of pictures to fool they eye. The animated movement has to look natural and convincing. OSU animation expert Vita Berezina-Blackburn explains how understanding physics is also essential to good animation.

“Even with something simple as a bouncing ball, in order to properly communicate visually the weight of a ball, you have to understand how this ball is going to land, how many times will it bounce, how will it squash when it hits the ground,” she said.

The squash and stretch display in the Animation exhibit gives visitors a chance to test their own physics intuition. Faced with a computer screen of distorted basketballs, visitors try to arrange the shapes in a sequence that represents how a ball would really change shape as it bounces.

Sisters Shanelle and Justice Solgos gave it a try. It’s not as obvious as it might seem, but eventually they got it right.

The exhibit seems like a series of games, but OSU graduate student Beth Albright, who worked for ten years in a Columbus animation studio, says it accurately portrays the process involved in creating a real animation film.

“It was a really great illustration of the way that you do take a bunch of different drawings, and line them up, and take pictures of them and then play them back really fast,” Albright said. “And they also did a good job showing lots of different parts of the process story boarding, animation sound design, sound effects.”

The traditional or 2-D animation showcased in the exhibit now competes with computerized animation, a process in which a computer, rather than an artist, fills in the many images needed to create a film. Albright says that regardless of how the animation is made the ideas in the exhibit are relevant.

“The same principles are involved no matter whether you’re doing it on paper or in a computer,” she said. “So, although most of the movies you can go see right now in the theater are made in a computer they’re using the same ideas.”

COSI spokesperson Kelli Nowinsky hopes that people will take home what they’ve learned.

“After experiencing the hands-on elements of the exhibition they start to understand it and I think next time they sit down and watch Dexter’s Laboratory or Code Name Kids Next Door they’ll view it in a very different way,” she said.

For nine year old Amber Jones, that’s certainly the case. Next time she watches cartoons, she’ll be looking for the techniques she learned at COSI.

“If I haven’t learned it here, I would probably wonder, how did they do this?” Jones said. “Maybe I’ll learn it next time.” The Animation exhibit at COSI will remain open until Labor Day.

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