We'll use Microsoft's drag-and-drop code editor to create the animations. MakeCode is an easy way to get up and running with the Circuit Playground Express. No prior coding knowledge is needed, and it's an easy way to experiment and learn to think like a coder.
For this project we'll be using maker.makecode.com, which is the beta version of MakeCode. At the time of writing, it has a few more features that will give us more control over our pixels, but it does change frequently so if something's not where you expect, look around.
Once your code is written, you'll simply plug your Circuit Playground Express into your computer via its USB port and click the "reset" button. Be sure the USB cable is a known good "data + power" cable and not a small charge only cable. All the lights will turn green and your Circuit Playground will appear as a drive on your computer called CPLAYBOOT. Drag your downloaded code onto this drive to program the Circuit Playground Express. Easy!
If you get a flash drive named CIRCUITPY instead, no worries, press the reset button twice and CPLAYBOOT should show up. It might take one or two tries but it does work.
Head over to this Intro to MakeCode guide for more info on getting started with MakeCode.
If you want to skip right to the end and work backwards, here's the completed MakeCode project.
Code Design & User Interface
For this project, I want to design a flickering flame animation and trigger it when I shake the puppet's head. After a few seconds of flickering, I want the lights to slowly fade to black until they're triggered again with another shake.
Head to maker.makecode.com, choose New Project and select the Circuit Playground Express. You'll find yourself in the MakeCode Editor. From here, you can click on any of the colored tabs and drag blocks of code onto your workspace, then preview it using the emulator pictured on the left.