Introduction: 3D Printed Penguin Zoetrope

Our class utilized the 3D Printers at the UNC BeAM space to create a 3D Printed Zoetrope, a pre-cinema animation device that works by rapidly rotating a cylinder with images on the inside which, when viewed from the outside through slits in the sides of the cylinder, gives the illusion that the images on the inside are actually moving. The slits act to separate each "frame" of motion. In our case, we made the images 3 dimensional. To create these, we used 3D Printers to print the forms we wanted to use in our animation. Our group created an animation of a penguin waddling out of an egg and jumping into a pool of water in the center.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

You'll need a couple of things first.

  • Access to a 3D Printer
  • Access to software used with the 3D printer, such as Tinkercad and Cura
  • Acrylic paint and brushes
  • Hot glue gun
  • Wooden disk (mine was 12" in diameter)
  • Paper drum with slits
  • Record player

Step 2: Decide on an Animation

First you need to figure out what exactly you want to be in your 3D printed zoetrope! It's important to think through all the aspects of animation as well as how practical it will be to create using the 3D printer. Come up with several good ideas and then test them out by building one of your objects in Tinkercad and then seeing how it will print in the 3D printer. Some more complicated objects are more likely to malfunction in the printer so in this case, going simple with the object might be your best option.

Step 3: Plan Your Animation

This step is important for you to be able to visualize how the frames are going to work together to come up with an animation that will resemble realistic movement when your zoetrope is up and running. After brainstorming what each frame was going to look like, one of our group members created a short digital animation to make sure that it will look natural when the zoetrope is moving. You can do this using a variety of apps, creating a small flip book animation, or you can simply draw out your frames in the sequence they will appear.

Step 4: Design Your Objects

Next, you'll need to design what your objects will look like using a 3D printing design program such as Tinkercad. Tinkercad is easy to use and would be the best option for beginners. However, if you already have experience using 3D modeling software there are plenty of other ways to design objects to be printed. You will need to make sure that you have an object designed for each frame you are going to print.

Step 5: Print Your Objects

You will then need to actually print the objects you have designed. Using the Cura software, scale your objects to a standard size, making sure they will all fit within the sections of your zoetrope. Then, according to your 3D printer's specifications, adjust the temperature and support settings to ensure the object will print correctly. Don't be afraid to ask someone who works there for help on this step - 3D printers are complicated and you want to be sure to get the best print possible.

Step 6: Paint Your Objects

If you want the objects to be even more realistic and interesting, use acrylic paint to paint them in whatever colors you want. We also painted the wooden base white to resemble snow, and we used blue to paint the puddle of water in the middle.

Step 7: Assemble and Glue

Carefully place your objects on the board in the order you want them to appear in on the zoetrope. Then, use a hot glue gun to glue down the pieces so they stay in place when the zoetrope spins.

Step 8: Spin!

Now that your zoetrope is assembled, it's time to test it out. First place it on a record player with the paper drum with the slits around the disk. The zoetrope will be most visible if you turn off the lights and place a spotlight over it that only hits the inside of the drum, to create high contrast for the animation. Now turn on the record player and watch the magic of the zoetrope!

The video above is the end result of my class project, and each zoetrope was created by a group of 3 people.