If you are new to animation, the flour sack exercise (or ‘the flour sack test’) is a great way to practice your animation skills.
Around the 1930s when the art of animation was developing, flour used to come in a sack that was made of fabric. Animators found that this flour sack was perfect for their animation practice because they could draw it in different ways to create different attitudes in the shape of the flour bag.
What is the flour sack exercise in animation?
The purpose of the flour sack exercise is to animate a simple flour sack going through different emotions and gestures. The flour sack exercise is one of the first exercises Disney animators had to learn when studying the principles of traditional animation.
A flour sack is a relatively straightforward object to draw, but you have to think about the shape and volume of the flour sack when you are animating its gestures, movements, and feelings.
Learning how to animate changes in emotional expressions is the first step of learning character animation.
The flour sack exercise was originally designed and used in traditional (hand-drawn) 2D animation, but you can also use it to practice 3D computer animation.
Animation tip: You can practice animating your bag of flour with Procreate on the iPad. Procreate has an ‘Animation Assist’ feature that allows you to create simple frame-by-frame animations. You can even draw a background for your flour sack animation!
There are several reasons why the exercise of animating a flour sack is useful:
- Poses and gestures. The flour sack exercise immediately focuses your attention on drawing the right poses and gestures without relying on the ‘details’ such as faces, expressions, and limbs.
- Better storytelling. By focusing your attention on drawing gestures you get better at drawing gestural forms. And, if you can communicate only by drawing gestures you will be able to tell a better story.
- Existing character design. Because you already have a character design you can immediately start your practice session. You don’t have to spend time thinking about what you will animate.
- Basic drawing skills. A flour sack is a (relatively) easy character to draw. This helps you to spend the majority of your time practicing the principles of animation.
- Beginner and advanced. This beginner-friendly animation exercise is also very useful if you are an advanced animation artist. You can increase the difficulty of your animation by creating more elaborate stories.
Ideas for a flour sack animation
Here is a list of ideas to help you practice with flour sack animation. The assignments on the list increase in difficulty as you progress.
- Actions. Waving, walking, jumping, falling, sleeping, dancing.
- Feelings. Happy, angry, sad, sleepy or tired, scared, jealous, hungry.
- Personalities. Curious, confident, shy, generous, artistic.
- Relations. Friendship, love, parent-child, brother-sister.
- Interactions. With an object (e.g. ball), with a mirror, with another character (e.g. animal, second flour sack).
- Story. Combine different elements of this list of ideas to create a coherent story.
Animation tip: Give your animation practice a little bit of Disney magic by animating Aladdin’s magic carpet! The idea is similar to the previous exercises because the magic carpet doesn’t have facial expressions and is made up of a simple rectangular shape. The form of the carpet is different – it has a different volume because the carpet is (almost) flat. Try out this variation if you have already had a lot of practice with the flour sack exercise.