PRE-CINEMA ANIMATION DEVICES

ZOETROPES, THAUMATROPES, PRAXINOSCOPES




The zoetrope is one of several animation toys which were invented in the
19th century, as people experimented with ways to make moving pictures.
The zoetrope appeared first in England in 1834, then France in 1860 and
finally the United States in 1867. The "Daedatelum" was invented by William
George Horner in 1834 and renamed "Zoetrope" by French inventor, Pierre Desvignes. In "zoetrope" you might recognize the root word "zoo" from a Greek word meaning animal or life. "Trope" is also from Greek and refers to things that turn.

Make your own zoetrope.

For a paper zoetrope, download
and print out a kit produced by Georg Eggers.

It's back! The DaMert Movie Motion Zoetrope has been revamped and improved with joined parts, a new smoother spin and, in addition to my original 12, a lot of new strips by Rufus Butler Seder, the creative force at Eye Think, Inc.

International mailing rates fluctuate, so if you are ordering from outside the US, please email me for an estimate of shipping costs.

The zoetrope is the wheel of life. When you place a strip of drawings inside the zoetrope's drum, spin it and look through the slots, you will see the images come to life. Of course, they are not really alive. This illusion of motion depends on two things; persistence of vision and the phi phenomenon.
Persistence of vision, first noted in 1820 by Peter Mark Roget, refers to the length of time the retina (the "screen" at the back of our eyes which is sensitive to light) retains an image. If we see a light flash every tenth of a second or less, we perceive it as continuous. The impression of each flash of light remains, or persists, in the retina for at least one-tenth of a second. Because of this persistence, we can't tell where one flash ends and the next begins. Instead, we perceive a continuous light.

If, when you spin the zoetrope, you look over the top of the drum at the drawings instead of looking through the slots all you will see is a blur. The illusion of motion is gone. The slots of the zoetrope simulate flashes of light, creating a strobe. Persistence of vision is a stroboscopic effect. The images you see must be interrupted by moments of darkness in order for the illusion to work.

The Phi phenomenon is a result of human instinct. Our brains strive to make meaning from what we perceive. When we see different images close together our brains quickly create a relationship between them. The metamorphosis of an umbrella into a mushroom makes a certain kind of sense, even though this is not something you would ever see in the real world.
Movies are composed of shots of different characters and events taken from a variety of angles and distances edited together. A skilled editor can take advantage of the phi phenomenon to maximize the illusion of continuity so that you may not consciously notice the cuts. But you, as the viewer, are most responsible for continuity. You see the shots together, and your mind creates a world from them which seems to have its own space and time.

The zoetrope and other nineteenth century animation devices such as the flipbook, thaumatrope, praxinoscope and mutoscope were steps in the development of film and television. On the surface, modern media technologies look different from the optical toys of the 1800s, but they share common properties. The zoetrope has slots that create a stroboscopic effect. Movie projectors have a shutter that interrupts the light from the projector bulb as the film advances through the gate. The strobe of the projector shutter keeps the film from blurring. Video images are scanned onto your television by a beam which zig-zags across the screen from top to bottom twice for each frame. In between each frame is a little black, which you may see as a roll-bar when your television's vertical hold needs adjustment.

The zoetrope's speed is variable. The faster it turns, the smoother the motion appears. When the zoetrope slows down so that each image is seen for a tenth of a second or more, the illusion of movement begins to break down and the strobe is more obvious. Film projectors usually run at a rate of 24 frames, or pictures, per second. VCR and DVD players play and/or record at a rate of 30 frames per second. But old silent movie projectors run at 16 or 18 frames per second. They are so slow they seem to flicker.

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Copyright Ruth Hayes 2011