Introduction: Make a Zoetrope or 20

Zoetrope means Turning Zoo or Wheel of Life.
I developed this kit as a way for kids to learn the basic mechanics of strobing images and get excited about animation. My first workshop was with our local science discovery centre's school holiday program. (Scitech!)
The kit had to be exceedingly simple and quick to make because I had to make at least 30 of them and, when my lasercutting deal fell through, I had to make them in a day.

There are so many variations out there you can really take your pick. This one is really easy to put together.
I had purchased bearings and bolts and all kinds of things that I didn't end up using. Hanging it with thread was someone's stroke of panicked genius that day. It's easy, hands free, and spins for much longer.


For the main barrel:
A1 sheet of black cardboard (you can use a smaller one and tape bits together)
  Scalpel/snap blades
Plastic plates (a little more than diameter of zoetrope barrel.. plates normally make for a good grip around the edge)
  Something to punch holes (punch+hammer, drill press, hot wire.. whatever!)
White paper for your animation (can use A1 or smaller strips stuck together)

For the stand:
Wire (>1mm)
  Wire cutters
Sturdy cardboard (2 x A4)

Long ruler
Clear stickytape/sellotape

Step 1: Measure and Cut Slits

My zoetrope has 13 frames 40mm wide. The slits above the frames are 40mm tall and 2mm wide.
My first kit had 3mm slits; that was too much and the animation was blurry.

This is the most time-consuming part, but if you're only making one it shouldn't take very long.
I had to use slave-labour and/or bribery. 

13 frames is a traditional format.. The number of frames is usually odd. I speculate that this is so that you look through a slit between frames – directly at the opposite frame. In reality, with this kind of kit, you will not notice any difference and can make it as many frames as you want.
13 frames is small enough that kids have to keep their design very simple and can therefore actually complete a loop in the given time.

Step 2: Punch Holes in the Plates

Mark 3 pairs of small holes on the plate within the diameter of the black card.
I initially tried having thread on the outside thinking it would be more stable but had to use too many workarounds in the end. Inside is perfectly fine.

Obviously you can make the holes any way you like. I tried using a blade, and ended up using a punch-and-hammer. A hot wire also works very well when you've got heaps to get through. (Because I was processing kits en-mass I had to make sure my plates were separated by popsticks so that the hot wire didn't weld them together)

Step 3: Make the Stand

These wire stands were meant to be a temporary fix but they worked very well and were an encouragement to the parents because they looked like coat hangers.
The wire is 1.25mm diameter (between 18 & 17 SWG): still malleable, but can stand up to a bit of abuse.

As you can see I also needed help with this part - at 2am! My friends are legends.

I came up with a cardboard stand as well (fits on 2 sheet of A4). I also had one laser-cut in MDF and it's good, but not vital.

Step 4: Hang the Zoetrope

Attach 40 cm lengths of thread to each set of holes in the plate. Hold them midway and dangle the plate just above the table. Gently readjust your grip or push gently on the plate to get it level, then tie it off. You will want to add a loop at the top, just make sure it's short enough to hang above the table.

Sometimes I use stickytape and no knots at all because I know it will get knocked around on the way home and will need to be adjusted by the parents. All that matters is that it hangs straight.

The thread just slips over the foot of the stand sits in the wire loop at the top.
You can make a little hook out of a paper clip if you don't want to keep slipping the thread on and off the stand to change the animation.

Step 5: Animation Strip

Cut strips of white paper to fit 13 frames, plus tape. Mark out the frames. It helps to storyboard the animation first!
It needs to be very brief and loop back on itself.

Note: thick black felt-tip shows up best. Fine pencil drawings turn into a grey blur – you need plenty of contrast! Blocks of colour usually show up fine.

Sample animations!
Muybridge's famous photographs of a horse's gallop:
(it is 12 frames but that shouldn't be too bad if you print it out at the right length!)

My own first attempts at 13 frames:

Step 6: Final Assembly

Sit the black cylinder on the plate with the slits on top; the animation strip sits inside, facing inward; the loop of thread sits in the loop in the wire. 

Spin it slowly by the edge of the plate - it helps to use both hands so that it doesn't sway too much. 

Here's a video of the finished product!

Education Contest

Second Prize in the
Education Contest

Wheels Challenge

Participated in the
Wheels Challenge