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A Touch of Randomness Makes The Magic Sparkle • A Python `turtle` Animation
Let's build this sparkly `turtle` animation step by step
Writing animations using Python's
turtle module is one of my hobbies. Earlier this week, I needed a distraction, so I opened my IDE and immersed myself in writing a new animation. Here it is. I'll build the code step by step in this article, but I'll try to keep this article compact.
So, let's start. We'll work towards building this animation:
You can steer the lead dot using arrow keys, and coloured dots fall gracefully from this lead dot. You'll notice the dots fall at nearly equal speeds, but they're not falling at the exact same rate.
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Let's Start With The Lead Dot
You'll use the
turtle module in this animation, which is part of Python's standard library. But don't worry if you've never used this module. It's designed to be relatively straightforward to use.
Let's start by creating the lead dot. You'll need to:
Create the dot
Set it to move continuously
Enable the user to steer the dot using arrow keys
Start by importing the
turtle module and creating an instance of the
Turtle class. I'll call this script
magic_sparkle.py, but you can choose your preferred name if you wish:
You also change the shape of the displayed image representing the
Turtle object to a dot and "raise the pen up" so that the object doesn't draw a line when it moves.
Let's also add some background colour:
Screen object represents the window that pops up when you run this code. This is the canvas where the animation takes place. In the code above, you also change the lead dot's colour to white. Here's the output:
Next, you can make the lead dot move continuously using a
So far, you have a white dot that runs off the screen. If the dot disappears off the screen too quickly, you can reduce
lead_dot_speed to a value between
You can steer this dot by defining a couple of functions that turn the dot left and right and binding these functions to the arrow keys on your keyboard:
You can now steer the dot using arrow keys. Note that depending on your system, you may need to click on the animation window to make sure it's active before you can start using the arrow keys in the animation:
Controlling When The Image Is Updated
You may notice a lag in the animation when you steer the dot. This occurs because the animation updates the display at every change of the dot's position and direction. Even rotating the dot's direction takes time.
We can fix this lag by controlling when the program updates the screen. You can set the animation to not display any updates and only make the changes behind the scenes using
0 as an argument for the
tracer() method, which is a method attached to the screen object you created.
However, you'll need to tell your program when to update the screen. You can do so in the
while loop. This turns each iteration of the
while loop into a frame of the animation. I'm only showing sections with changes in this code:
This change will serve you well later when the animation will have more objects moving simultaneously on the screen.
Adding The Falling Dots
Let's create a
Dot class to simplify creating the falling dots. This class can inherit from the
turtle.Turtle class. I'll define the class in a separate file called
dot.py and import the class into the main script:
I promised a compact(-ish) article, so I won't dwell too long on explaining class attributes, instance attributes, special methods or inheritance. But there's a series of seven articles in The Python Coding Stack's archive about this topic if you'd like to read more: A Magical Tour Through Object-Oriented Programming in Python • Hogwarts School of Codecraft and Algorithmancy. There's also a chapter in The Python Coding Book about object-oriented programming: Chapter 7 | Object-Oriented Programming.
Each dot is created at the x- and y-coordinates you pass when creating the instance. Its colour is set randomly from the three options (these are The Python Coding Place's brand colours, along with the background colour used earlier!) The object's heading is set to
-90, which sets the object pointing downwards. This means we can move the object forward in the
You can now import this class in
magic_sparkle.py and spawn a new dot every half a second (for now). Each new dot's location matches the lead dot's location at the time the new dot is created. You can store all the new dots in a list and then loop through this list to move all the dots in each frame:
You'll get this animation when you run this script:
We're getting there, but there's still a bit more to do. But before you move on, you can notice that the regularity of the spawn intervals and falling speeds makes the animation a bit too, what's the word, regular. There's nothing wrong with this. But I think adding a touch of randomness makes a big difference. We'll get to this soon.
Can We Ignore The Dots That Leave The Screen?
No, we shouldn't. Here's why:
You add a line to show how many dots there are in the
dots list. Even though you can no longer see dots that have left the screen, they're still there, and your code is still making them fall!
This seems like an easy problem to solve (ha!):
You're now removing dots from the list when they dip below the screen's bottom edge. This is good as you won't need to deal with these objects when you iterate through
dots in the next iterations. And the printout showing the number of dots in the list shows that this number decreases each time a dot leaves the screen.
But the objects are still there, out of sight. That's because the
turtle module keeps a list of all the
Turtle objects created in the program. You can access this internal list using
You'll see that the number of dots in the list you create,
dots, decreases when a dot leaves the screen. However, the number of items in
turtle.turtles() never decreases.
You can remove these objects, too:
Note that the length of
turtle.turtles() will always be one more than the length of
dots since it also includes the lead dot, which is not included in
I'll remove the printouts from future versions of the code since they're no longer needed.
A Touch of Randomness • The Magic Sparkle
The code works. But we can make it look better. And one way of doing this is by adding a touch of randomness to remove the regularity.
You can define ranges for the size and speed of the dots and add these as arguments when you create
Dot instances. Let's start with updating the class definition:
__init__() special method has two additional parameters,
speed_range, which are designed to be tuples containing the start and end of each range. You'll see an example of this in the main script.
Next, you change the size of the dot using the
shapesize() method of the
You generate a random number between
You multiply this number by the size of the range to scale the number. For example, if the range is from
5, you multiply the random number by
3, which is
5-2. This means the random number is now a value between
Finally, you add the start value of the range to shift the value. In the above example, the range starts at
2. Therefore you add
2to the result from the step above. The random number you create is now between
5, which is the range of values supplied.
You use the same logic to set the speed of the dot.
magic_sparkle.py, you define the ranges as tuples and add them as arguments when you create a
You can run this code to see how this randomness affects the animation. But I'll make one more change before showing the animation. Let's also add randomness to the spawn time using the same transformations you used earlier to scale and shift a random number in the range from
1 to the desired range:
The dots aren't spawned every half a second now. Instead, the delay between dots spawned is a random value generated within the range defined.
And Finally, Fix The Frame Rate
I discussed the issue of fixing the frame rate in an earlier post on The Stack: Section 5 in Zen and The Art of Python turtle Animations • A Step-by-Step Guide. Let's fix the frame rate in this animation:
This is the final version of
magic_sparkle.py. And here's the final version of
dots.py for completeness:
This animation is now complete. The animation I showed you at the top of this article is created with this final version of the code.
Have I convinced you that writing animations using the
turtle module is loads of fun? It's great for exploring and experimenting with many Python topics. And I'll use it again in posts on The Stack from time to time!
Now, go an sprinkle some magic with this animation.
Code in this article uses Python 3.12
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Stephen: Let's do a Black Friday offer. Over 70% off on lifetime membership of The Python Coding Place. What do you think?
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