How to Make a Zoetrope:

     You can make a zoetrope easily and inexpensively from any cylindrical tube. I prefer 12" schedule 40 PVC pipe or 12" unwaxed Sonotubes that art used in casting concrete columns. You will need a lazy susan bearing (3C bearings cost about about $3 each) available from builders' supply stores.

I made the zoetrope shown at left from PVC pipe and a 3C lazy susan bearing in 1979. Since then, this zoetrope has been spun, banged around and exposed to various kinds of abuse from thousands of pre-school, K-12 and college students and I've only had to repair it once after it was damaged in shipping.

For a smaller but simpler zoetrope, use the 10" diameter cardboard ice cream buckets from ice cream stores. If you use one of these, you can glue it straight onto a Rubbermaid lazy susan. Or you can make a motorized zoetrope instead by sticking the bucket on the spindle of an old record turntable (the motorized zoetrope will only turn in one direction, so it's not quite as versatile).


1. Cut the PVC pipe or sono-tube evenly so that it's height is at least equal to the radius of the cylinder. A height of 6-8" for a 12" diameter tube is fine. (You don't have to cut the ice cream bucket at all).

2. Slots must be evenly spaced around the cylinder, no more than one-half its height, and no more than 3/16ths of an inch wide (the narrower the slots, the more in-focus the image will appear). Measure the cylinder's outside circumference and divide it by 12. Subtract the width of the slots from that number and you will have the distance between each slot. Cut 12 equidistant vertical slots around the top edge of the PVC or sono tube. You can start by drilling holes at either end of the slot and then use a jigsaw to cut out the piece in between. If you're using an ice-cream bucket, cut the slots about midway up the side using a matte knife.

3. Cut a bottom for the tube. You can use thin plywood, masonite or plexiglass. Either cut it square, or round to fit the cylinder, then nail or screw the two pieces together.

4. Now you have a drum with one closed side and one open side. Cut a piece of wood to make a base for the zoetrope. Carefully center the lazy susan bearing on it and mark places to drill screw holes. Center the bearing on the bottom of the zoetrope drum and mark places to drill screw holes for the other side of the bearing. Screw the bearing into the bottom first, then, using nuts, bolts and lock washers, attach the bearing to the drum. If you squirt some graphite into the bearing before installing it, it will spin faster.

5. Paint the outside of the zoetrope matte black. Paint the inside bright white. A strong overhead light shining into the zoetrope will make your artwork more visible.


Zoetrope Strips:

Make paper strips the length of the inside circumference of the zoetrope and no wider than the space between the bottom of the zoetrope and the slots. Divide each strip into 12 equal frames.

Keep in mind that your animated sequence will repeat itself in the zoetrope. It's a cycle. The drawing in the first frame follows the one in the twelfth frame directly. The difference between these frames should be small. Don't try to animate a complicated story, just a simple motion, gesture or metamorphosis, one thing transforming into something else. Sketch in pencil first, then go back over your lines with a dark pen. Pencil lines are too light to show up against the strobe of the zoetrope.

Think of simple shapes to draw. A dot could get bigger and bigger with each frame. A line could rotate like the hands of a clock or wag back and forth like a dog's tail. A smile on a face could turn into a frown.

Draw the extreme positions of the motion separated by five empty frames. Go back and draw gradual changes in the frames between your key drawings.

To animate a metamorphosis, draw your first image in frame one and the image you will transform it into in frame seven. Use the frames in between one and seven to draw the gradual changes of the metamorphosis. You can copy these inbetweens in reverse order in frames eight through eleven to complete the cycle.

You can color your strips. Because of the strobe, pale colors don't show up very well. Use bright, bold ones. Experiment with alternating blocks of color from frame to frame.

After you have made some simple strips, you might want to try more complicated ones. Instead of twelve frames, make a strip with ten, eleven or fourteen frames of equal width. Draw the same simple shape in each frame. Notice that in the zoetrope, the shape seems to move in one direction or the other even though you have not animated it. If you animate a ten frame cycle of someone walking, they will appear to walk from right to left in a clockwise spin, and left to right in a counter-clockwise spin.

The zoetrope will transform any drawings into some kind of motion. Sometimes it's fun just to scribble random abstractions on the strips and then watch what kind of effect the zoetrope has on them.

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Copyright Ruth Hayes 2011