The Zimmer Twins: Crowdsourced animation for kids

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The Zimmer Twins is a Canadian project that combines crowdsourcing with children and animation. And makes money doing it.

The site has been around for five years and accomplished quite a bit, but if like me, you're not Canadian and don't have pre-teen kid, you may never have heard of it.

Kids create their cartoons by selecting a short starter story, then using the web-based animation interface to create their own Zimmer Twins episodes. They're given libraries of actions, characters, backgrounds, and props, which they can mix and match.

Some of the episodes kids created have then been professionally produced into broadcast shorts that aired on the Canadian network TELETOON. The company has also had partnerships with ABC in Australia and qubo/NBC in the US and now features submissions through their YouTube channel.

In the first season alone, 100,000 episodes were created by users. In the five years the site has been live, hundreds have been broadcast on the air out of more than a million movies created by 400,000 members. The Zimmer Twins has won an International Interactive Emmy and a Parent's Choice Award, among others.

Beginning in March of this year, the site began offering VIP memberships, which for $3-4/month give the user access to enhanced commenting and review features as well as more clips to use in their movies. Further updates and features for VIP members were rolled out in October.

In one friendly service, Zimmer Twins has managed to:

  • crowdsource shorts for broadcast television and the web
  • teach kids about creating stories and cartoons
  • introduce them to the world of mashups and remixes on a level they can handle
  • give teachers a tool to reinforce reading, writing, and sentence structure
  • make money (with the stated intention of keeping the site ad-free)

I think the only thing they could do to improve it is to increase the sharability of the outcome. As best I can tell, the only way you can share a movie you've made with someone else is to email the URL for your movie to that person. No embedding or other methods.

There's also an opportunity here to teach your kids something about licensing. It's not really surprising, but the parent company, LTPO, gets all the rights to everything your kids submit:

Any content provided by you to LTPO anywhere on this web site shall become the property of LTPO throughout the universe in perpetuity and LTPO shall have the right to publish, reproduce, disseminate, exhibit or otherwise distribute and use the content you provide in all media now known or hereafter devised.

But arguably, this is one of those cases where a more open license might not be right, for a variety of reasons. You can use it as an opportunity to teach your kid what licensing and sharing mean from a more meaningful point of view--that of something they've created.

The site is targeted for 8-12 year-olds, but I think younger kids would be able to use it, although with help if they're not old enough to spell. And if you think your kids would enjoy the extra features, you can get a discount on VIP membership through GeekMom during November.

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Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and parenting.


Thanks for sharing this article. Our team continues to have a ton of fun running the Zimmer Twins. The project has evolved over the years, but I'm glad to find new kids and parents trying it out all the time. By the way, I agree with the point about offering embedding code. These is a bit of a technical hurdle involved in making that possible. But we'll keep plugging away and hopefully we'll find an elegant way to make that possible.

By the way, the Zimmer Twins is built using the open-source Drupal CMS and the module we wrote to manage moderation was contributed back to the project (

Thanks for commenting, Jason. I'm glad to hear you're open to, well, more openness. :-) And we're fans of Drupal here--this site runs on it as well.

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