Skip to content


Repository files navigation

Graft Generative Animation Language

Try it out online via Mastodon

The easiest way to try crafting a generative animation is to toot a program mentioning If you've never tooted before, see to find out how to register.


To install Graft, clone this repository and make sure you have Python 3.6 or above, and the attr library.

To display the animations in a window, install the Python bindings for GTK3 and Cairo.

To create animated gifs, install the ImageMagick utilities too.

On Ubuntu and similar systems, this should install everything you need:

sudo apt install make
make setup

Install on Raspberry Pi

Follow the Raspberry Pi Setup instructions.


If you'd like a fun way to get started with making animations, try the worksheet "Tell a story by making animations with code".


To draw a circle:

./graft 'S() d+=10'   # Step forward, then turn 10 degrees

Thick, rough, red circles saved to a GIF:

# Set red to 100, set brush size to 10,
# turn a random amount, then turn 10 degrees, then step forward
./graft 'r=100 z=10 d+=R()+10 S()' --frames=100 --gif=cir.gif --width=100 --height=75

Spinning box:

./graft 's=100 J() d+=90 S() d+=90 S() d+=90 S() d+=90 d+=15'

Flock of tiddlers:

./graft 'F() d+=R()+10 S()'


./graft 'dd=0 ^ T(11,F) d=f*30 d+=dd T(10,S) dd+=1' --max-forks=100000 --frames=40


./graft --frames=20 'b=70 a=90 s=20 d-=10 T(10,{S() d+=4}) T(35,F) s=10 r=f g=f b=f r*=20 g*=45 b*=75 d=f*10 T(4,{S() d+=10}) T(6,{a-=20 S() d+=10}) ^ s=1 d+=10 S()'

There are more examples in the animations directory.


To turn, change the variable d:

  • d+=45 means turn 45 degrees clockwise.
  • d-=90 means turn 90 degrees anti-clockwise.
  • s=90 means set the angle to 90 degrees (face right).

To step forward (drawing a line), use the command S():

  • S() means step forward. By default, this moves 10 units forward.

To change the step size, change the variable s:

  • s=20 S() means change step size to 20, and step forward.
  • s/=2 S() means halve the step size (divide by 2), and step forward.

To change the width of the lines, change the variable z:

  • z*=-1.5 S() means multiply width by -1.5, and step forward.

To do something several times, call the T function, saying how many times to do it, and giving the name of the function to call, or making a little function right there:

  • T(2,S) means step twice.
  • T(36,{d+=10 S()}) means turn then step 36 times.

By default, the whole of your program repeats over and over. To repeat only the last section (meaning the first section only runs once), add a label with ^:

  • s=1 ^ d+=10 s+=1 S() means start with a step size of 1, and increase it (and the angle), then step, every time. (Without the ^ the value of s would be reset back to 1 every time, because we'd start again at the beginning.)

Special variables

Graft contains some variables with special meanings:

  • d - "direction": the angle in degrees we are facing.
  • s - "step size": how far the next S() call will move us.
  • z - "size of brush": width of brush used for drawing lines.
  • r, g, b - "red", "green", "blue": components of the colour of the brush (0-100).
  • a - "alpha": transparency of the brush (0=transparent, 100=solid).
  • f - "fork id": the number of the line we are currently controlling - this changes when we use F() to "fork" into multiple lines.

The colour and transparency values may be set to values outside the range. Increasing or decreasing a value smoothly will result in gradual increase and then decrease in the displayed value, because numbers over 100 wrap around to -100, and negative values are displayed as their absolute value.

When graft starts, the following default values are set:


Drawing functions

The following functions are pre-defined in graft:

  • S - "Step": draw a line in direction d of length s.
  • D - "Dot": draw a dot at x, y
  • L - "Line to": draw a line from our old position to x, y
  • J - "Jump": move s units in direction d, without drawing a line.
  • R - "Random": return a random number between -10 and 10.
  • F - "Fork": split into 2 lines, and continue running the same program in both.

Language reference

Graft's syntax is a modified version of Cell, and you can find out a lot more about how Cell works on its web site. The key modifications used in Graft are that spaces are used to separate statements instead of semi-colons, and variables can be modified.


Numbers are all held as floating point numbers.

They are written with an optional "-" followed by some digits, optionally including a decimal point:

number ::= ["-"] digit* ["." digit*]
digit  ::= "0"..."9"

Note: because of Cell's "interesting" grouping rules, be careful when writing "-" followed by an expression. A leading "-" will negate the whole expression, so "-3+4" will equal -7, not 1. To force the order of evaluation, break your expressions into multiple statements.

Note: when lines are actually drawn, all numbers are rounded to the nearest 0.1, but this does not affect variable values, just on-screen position.


Symbols are made up of lower and upper case ASCII characters:

symbol ::= (letter | "_")+
letter ::= "a"..."z" | "A"..."Z"

Note: by convention, symbols holding numbers are written in lower case, and those holding functions are written in upper case.

Changing variable values

To set a variable value, write the variable name, then "=", then the value.

assignment ::= symbol "=" input
input = number | functiondef | (symbol | functioncall)

To add, subtract, or divide by a number, write the variable name, then a modifying operator +=, -=, *= or /=, then write the number. Example:

  • d/=3.1 - divide d by 3.1.

To multiply, write a number next to the symbol:

  • d*=4.5 - multiply d by 4.5.
modify ::= symbol modify_operator input
modify_operator ::= "+=" | "-=" | "*=" | "/="

Mathematical expressions

To calculate something, write numbers or variables joined by an operator like "+", "-", "*", or "/":

expression ::= number | symbol | functioncall | modify | combination | array
combination ::= expression ( operator | comparison ) expression
operator :== "+" | "-" | "*" | "/"


To compare two numbers, write them joined by a comparison operator like "<", ">", "<=", ">=", or "==". The answer is 1 if the condition is true, or zero if not.

a=3 b=4 c=a<b d=a>=b

In the above program, c is set to 0, because a is not less than b, but d is set to 1 because a is greater than or equal to b.

To check whether two values are equal, use the "==" operator. "<" means "less than" (checks whether the first is smaller than the second), "<=" means "less than or equal to", ">" means "greater than" (checks whether the first is bigger than the second) and ">=" means "greater than or equal to".

Normally, comparisons are used as conditions in things like the If function - see the "Logic" section below for more.

comparison :== "<" | ">" | "<=" | ">=" | "=="

Running functions

To run a function, write its name, then "(", then the arguments separated by commands, and then ")":

functioncall ::= symbol "(" [argument] ["," argument]* ")"


To set the label (where in the program we will jump back to when we hit the end), write "^":

label ::= "^"

Combining statements

To run multiple statements, write them next to each other, separated by spaces or new lines:

program ::= statement+
statement ::= statement_body [" " | "\n"]
statement_body ::= expression | label

Defining functions

To describe a function, write "{", then the commands, then "}". If the function has arguments, write ":(" after the "{", then the arguments separated by ",", then ")", and the commands after that.

The return value of the function is the value of the last statement inside it.

StepTurnStep={S() d+=10 S()}
Double={:(x) x*2}
Polygon={:(n, side) s=side T(n, {d+=360/n S()})}
functiondef ::= "{" program "}"


If you want to draw two lines simultaneously, use the F() function.

For example, to split into 2 lines and then make each of them move randomly, run:

./graft 'F() ^ d=R()*36 S()'

The above program means:

  • F() - split into 2 lines
  • ^ - set a label - when we reach the end we will restart here
  • d=R()*36 - set d to a random number between -360 and 360
  • S() - draw a line in the direction (d) we are facing

To split into more lines, wrap the call to F with a T, meaning do it several times. For example:

./graft 'T(3,F) ^ d=R()*36 S()'

This program splits into 4 lines, and draws randomly as in the previous example.

If you want to know which line is currently running, use the f variable. The first line has f set to 0, and each time you fork the next line has its version of f set to the next number: 1, 2 etc.

For example:

./graft 'T(17,F) d=f*20 ^ d+=10 S()'

The above program means:

  • T(17,F) - split into 18 lines
  • d=f*20 - set d to 20 times the value of f - f is different for each line - 0, 1, 2, etc.)
  • S() - draw a line in the direction (d) we are facing

Here's what it looks like:


You can make a list of things by writing an array:

array ::= "[" [expression] ["," expression]* "]"

and you can get things back out with the Get function, and add things with the Add function:

For example, this program draws a dot at 3, 0 and another at 5, 0:

./graft 'ds=[2,3] Add(ds,5) x=Get(ds,1) D() x=Get(ds,2) D()'

Get counts the items in the array starting with zero, so to get the first item in ds write Get(ds,0) and to get the third item write Get(ds,2).

Add always adds at the end.


You can decide different things to do using the If function. The first argument is the value you are using to make a decision, and the second and third arguments are the things to do (they are functions).

So, the following program draws a dot if foo is not equal to zero, and a line otherwise:

./graft 'foo=1 If(foo,{x=10 y=10 D()},{s=100 S()})'

Since we set foo to 1, it draws a dot (since the part containing D() is called), but if we change foo to be zero, like this:

./graft 'foo=0 If(foo,{x=10 y=10 D()},{s=100 S()})'

then it draws a line because the part containing S() is called.

If we wanted a different coloured line for each of our forks, we could do this:

./graft 'F() r=0 g=0 If(f==0,{r=100},{g=100 d+=180}) ^ S() d+=10'

The above code works because when we call F() to fork into two lines, the variable f gets sets to a different number, and we use that inside the If to change our line colour (and direction).

For more details, see the "Decisions" section inside "Function reference".


You can use functions like T ("Times") to repeat things, and For to loop through arrays. See the "Loops" section inside "Function reference".

Function reference

This section describes the general functions provided with the programming language used by Graft. These are for doing programming jobs like looping, making decisions and using arrays. For functions that affect how things look and draw things on the screen, see the separate section "Drawing Functions".


Add(arr,item) - add item to the end of arr. item can be any type (including an array) and arr must be an array.

Get(arr,index) - extract a single value from arr (which must be an array). The value to extract is given by index which must be a number. Numbering starts at zero, so if you want the first item in an array, use Get(arr,0), and if you want the last item in a 3-item array, use Get(arr,2).

Len(arr) - find the length of an array. arr must be an array, and Len returns the number of items in arr.


If(cond,then_fn,else_fn) - decide on a condition. then_fn and else_fn must be functions that take no arguments. cond must be a number, and if it is zero, then else_fn is run. Otherwise, if cond is any other number, then_fn is run. Often, the functions to run are defined in the same line, and the condition to check is expressed using a comparison operator. For example: If(x>2,{y=17},{y=0}).

Not(cond) - reverse a condition. cond must be a number. If cond is 0, Not returns 1. Otherwise, Not returns 0.


T(repeats,body_fn) - do something repeatedly ("T" stands for "Times"). repeats must be a number, and body_fn must be a function that takes no arguments. body_fn is run repeats number of times.

For(arr,body_fn) - loop through a list of things (array). arr must be an array, and body_fn must be a function that takes one argument. body_fn will be run once for every item in arr, and that item will be passed as an argument to body_fn. The return value of For is an array containing the values returned from each call to body_fn in the same order as the original items.

For(iter_fn,body_fn) - this alternative form of For allows looping over the elements of an iterator function iter_fn. iter_fn must be a function that takes no arguments and each time it is called, returns an item to process, or the special endofloop symbol when it is finished. body_fn must be a function that takes one argument, and it will be run once for every item, and that item will be passed as an argument to body_fn. The return value of For is an array containing the values returned from each call to body_fn in the same order as the items returned from each call to iter_fn..

For example, we may write a Myrange function like this:

Myrange={:(max) i=-1 {i+=1 If(i<max,{i},{endofloop})}}

that returns numbers 0, 1, ... max-1, and use it to provide items for a loop like this:

For(Myrange(5),{:(i) x=i*10 D()})

So our whole program looks like this:

./graft 'Myrange={:(max) i=-1 {i+=1 If(i<max,{i},{endofloop})}} For(Myrange(5),{:(i) x=i*10 D()})'

and it draws 5 dots at x positions 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4.

While(cond_fn,body_fn) - repeat an action until a condition is met. conf_fn must be a function taking no arguments, and body_fn also must be a function taking no arguments. cond_fn is called, and if it returns a non-zero number, body_fn is called. This is repeated until conf_fn returns zero. While returns an array of all the return values of the calls to body_fn in the order they were called.


You can perform a number of standard mathematical operations in Graft, using these functions:

  • Sin(deg)
  • Cos(deg)
  • Tan(deg)
  • ASin(num)
  • ACos(num)
  • ATan(num)
  • ATan2(opp,adj)
  • Sqrt(num)
  • Pow(num,exp)
  • Hypot(x,y)

All of these functions take numbers as arguments, and return numbers. Sin, Cos and Tan take angles in degrees, and ASin, ACos, ATan and ATan2 return angles in degrees.

To provide these functions, Graft wraps the original Python implementations, so for detailed information about how they work, see the Python math documentation, but note that Graft adapts the functions to work in degrees rather than radians.

Command line arguments

$ ./graft --help
usage: graft [-h] [--frames NUMBER_OF_FRAMES] [--gif GIF_FILENAME]
             [--width WIDTH] [--height HEIGHT] [--max-forks MAX_FORKS]
             [--lookahead-steps LOOKAHEAD_STEPS] [--syntax {v1,cell}]

positional arguments:
  program               The actual graft program to run, e.g. 'd+=10 S()' to
                        draw a circle.

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
                        How many frames of the animation to draw, or -1 to
                        play forever.
  --gif GIF_FILENAME    Make an animated GIF instead of displaying on screen.
                        (Requires --frames=n where n > 0.)
  --width WIDTH         The width in pixels of the animation.
  --height HEIGHT       The height in pixels of the animation.
  --max-forks MAX_FORKS
                        The number of forked lines that can run in parallel.
  --lookahead-steps LOOKAHEAD_STEPS
                        How many steps to use to calculate the initial zoom
  --syntax {v1,cell}    Choose which code style you want to use - v1 syntax
                        uses e.g. :R to call the R function, whereas cell
                        syntax uses the more familiar R(). For more info on
                        the v1 syntax, see in the source

Running the Mastodon bot

To run the bot yourself:

sudo apt install python3-pip
pip3 install
$ ./bot-mastodon --help
usage: bot-mastodon [-h] [--register-app] [--user USER] [--password PASSWORD]
                    [--toot TOOT]

optional arguments:
  -h, --help           show this help message and exit
  --register-app       ONLY DO THIS ONCE - register this app with
              The client secret will be stored in
  --user USER          The username of the user on You must
                       provide this and --password the first time you run. The
                       credentials will be stored in
  --password PASSWORD  The password of the user on
  --toot TOOT          Toot something!


A generative animation tool







No releases published


No packages published