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In the advent of moving images, before film and video, the Zoetrope was one of the earliest tools for observing the phenomenon known as Persistence of Vision.

Persistence of vision is the optical illusion, created between the eye and the brain, in which we can see a line of still images as one moving image. Persistence of vision occurs when a line of still images moves at a speed of 18 - 24 frames per second. The movement of the still images is too fast for our eyes and brains to process, and so the images become connected or strung together, creating the illusion of movement.

Zoetropes were popular novelties in amusement parlors and private social gatherings beginning in 1865 until the end of the 19th century, and they're still fun to create and play!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

To make a Zoetrope we are going to need the following supplies:

  • One 350ml plastic food container
  • One piece of black medium to heavy weight paper (card stock or poste rboard will work)
  • One long pencil or dowel of a similar width and length.
  • One piece of copy paper for making animated strips
  • Two paperclips

Tools:

  • One Awl (a pointy tool that is handy for poking holes)
  • One pair of good scissors
  • Pen or Pencil for marking and drawing

Step 2: Step 2: Make the Animation House

To make the animation house you will measure, mark and cut 13 slits from one side of your piece of black poster board. The slits will be the aperture through which you will watch your animation as it spins around.

Each slit will be 1/6th of an inch wide and 15/16th of an inch apart, except for the last section which is 5/8" wide.

The slits are all 1" deep.

See the diagram below for a visual.

Step 3: Assemble the Zoetrope

After you've cut the Zoetrope image barrel, curl it around to fit inside the small food container. Use 2 paperclips to keep it closed.

Now that the barrel is completed, find the center of the food container and use the awl to poke a starter hole that an un-sharpened pencil can fit into. If the container cracked when you made the hole, add tape to secure the pencil and prevent more cracking.

Step 4: Make Your Animations and Watch Them Move

Now that your Zoetrope is assembled, print out a template for the animations and try one out.

The animation strips sit inside the zoetrope barrel, below the slits.

Spin the zoetrope around by twirling the pencil in your hand. Watch the animation at eye level THROUGH the slits.

NOTE: You need to view the animation THROUGH the slits, because you need the interference of the black paper to create the effect known as persistence of vision.

Do you see the animation?

Now make your own!

Download the blank animation template and draw your own animations.

<p>These are neat! It makes me think of the House on Haunted Hill :)</p>
Thanks! Glad you like it!

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