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Scratch Film

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    The Exploratorium

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Scratch Film

In this activity, learners manipulate film to create homemade movies. Scratch Film, also known as Direct Animation, is the process of drawing and scratching designs directly onto film. Images are hand painted on clear and black film leader using paints, markers and ink. Other techniques include stenciling, etching, and the use of found footage spliced directly into 16 mm and 35 mm film. This activity is great if you have old film equipment and are looking for a creative way to use it with learners.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
2 to 4 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
Over $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - adult

Resource Type:


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 16 mm film leader (clear and/or black)
  • 16 mm splicer and splicing tape
  • 16 mm film projector; take up reel
  • things to scratch with (dental tools, sandpaper, nails, tacks, X-ACTO blades
  • things for marking: Dr Martin's inks, permanent markers, q-tips
  • clothes line
  • clothes pins
  • scissors
  • hand lens
  • butcher paper


  • Physical Sciences
    • Light and Optics
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process

Informal Categories

  • Arts and Crafts
  • Photography and Film/Video


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Links STEM to other topics of interest such as arts and humanities
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All Rights Reserved, The Exploratorium,

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, ESI-0452567


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