Introduction: Movie to Mutoscope

About: I used to work for, now I just make stuff. // follow me to see what I'm up to:

Living in San Francisco, I am surrounded by super cool sites of technological and cultural history. One of these sites is the amazing Musée Méchanique on Pier 45 of the Embarcadero. The museum houses all kinds of mechanical relics from the turn of the century which reminds us of a time when the novelty of the arcade experience was cutting edge. Being a lover of machines, technology, history, and animation I was immediately interested in the Mutoscope in the museum when I found it!

The principle of the Mutoscope is very much like a flipbook. It is a series of animation cells that are hung from a mechanical spindle that advances the frames when someone cranks the handle, thus creating the illusion of motion.

Wanting to combine my loves of motion, nature, videography, photography, printing and fabrication - the mutoscope seemed like the best way to celebrate this skillset! The Dell Precision M3800 and it's Intel® Core™ i7 processor, was critical in making this project, as it allowed me to quickly capture and edit footage in the field, move to the lab for parts design, and print all the beautiful animation cells all from one computer.

Follow my journey in turning a movie into a mutoscope in the steps below!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Here is a comprehensive list of materials used for this project.

Materials & Tools used for Photographing and Capturing Video:

Materials & Tools used for Printing Photographs and Designing Parts:

Materials & Tools used for assembling Mutoscope & Enclosure:

  • Epilog 125W Laser
  • 3/16" Plywood
  • 1/16" Acrylic
  • Wood Glue
  • Acrylic Solvent Cement
  • Hot Glue and Hot Glue Gun
  • Zots Adhesive Dots
  • Brads/Brad Nailer
  • Bone Folder
  • 1/2" Threaded Rod, cut down from 3' to size
  • 4x 1/2" Nuts
  • Threaded 1/2" Crank

Step 2: Generating Source Footage

I had a lot of fun traveling all over California's East Bay to various sites to try and capture cool motions and actions that could be implemented as mutoscope animations. When I initially started, I wasn't sure what was going to be the most impactful as a mutoscope so I cast a wide net and went to industrial sites as well as hiking trails to get a nice range of motion to study.

I worked in two different ways - by capturing still photographs as well as moving videos. The Canon DSLRs are capable of capturing stills as well as video. For the movies, I shot long movie clips believing I would condense them down later using the Time Stretch tool in Adobe Premier. For the stills, I worked with an external tool called an Intervalometer - this works by connecting to the camera and signalling it to fire the shutter at set time interval.

When setting a trajectory for a project like this, I wanted a lot of options to experiment with in post-production.

The footage that ended up being the best fit for the rest of the project was a video of a honey bee landing in a California Poppy, then flying away. I captured this footage at Shepherd Creek in the Oakland Hills, it had a great vista of the Bay's skyline, as well as lots of flora and fauna in the immediate landscape.

Step 3: Importing and Editing Source Footage

I used Adobe's Media Capture tool in Bridge to import all the footage on to the Dell Precision.

Adobe Bridge is a really cool tool as far as media viewing goes. It allows you to tag, rate and, sort your media before you bring it into an editing environment. I was able to distill which footage was going to work best with the Bridge viewing tool before I even had to open it in a post-processing program like Premier or After Effects. Having all of these powerful viewing and editing programs running simultaneously can be RAM and processor intensive, but the Intel i7 processor handles like a dream.

Once I had a clip selected, I moved it into the Premier editing environment. I did this by opening Premier, starting a new project, and then dragging the clip from Bridge into Premiers sequence editor. I find that this is the best way to import media into Premier, so that the video codec mirrors your source footage without performing any re-samplings.

Once I had the clip in Premier I was able to make very precise edits and iterate quickly.

Here is my original video -

I wanted to really make it pop as an animation so I boosted the saturation in the video effects editor in Premier, and also applied a selective Gaussian Blur mask to part of the frame. This allowed me to pull focus to just the bee and the poppy, and blur out all of the visual information that was less relevant.

Premier is unique in the way that it allows you to preview applied effects before completely rendering footage. As I applied the effects, I had the ability to see how my changes were affecting the final composition. When I was ready to render my effects to prepare for file export, the Dell Precision was able quickly apply all of my filters and changes.

You can apply a selective effect mask on any video effect in Premier by using the Pen Tool on the effect layer. Effect layers are displayed in the Effects Tab of the Source Window. I used a Wacom Tablet to draw in the mask for the effects. This part was actually really rewarding! I was quickly able to review the effect-affected(ha!) areas of the video this way, and move my anchor points around if need be.

Step 4: Turning Footage Into Photographs

There are a few different ways to transition video footage into print-ready photographic stills. I've touched on this before in my previous Instructable, but because this is a different use-case, it is worth re-emphasizing.

Once I had finalized all of the effects I wanted incorporated into my source footage for the Mutoscope, I was able to effortlessly render the 60 frame animation with the Precision's 2GB of Ram and Intel i7 Core processor. This is the clip that will become the frames of the mutoscope, before it is processed to create print files:

I will address two different methods to get generate printable files from a video file. Both of which are a bit tedious, but creates an infrastructure for automating the rest of the printing process.


After the video effects were applied in Premier, and exported, I was able to Import video directly into photoshop - this makes a frame by frame animation that editable with PS toolset.

Then you can go through and selectively export each frame by hand by gradually turning off layer visibility and saving each layer below it as a new .tif file


Premier has a shortcut to export frames of a sequence as .tif/.jpg/.png files - you can do this with the keyboard with the keys Ctrl + Shift + E, or by clicking camera icon in the Program viewer of the Premier editing environment


By the end of this process, I had 60 frames to work with and could begin automating the printing process.

Step 5: Prepping Cells for Printing

Starting with a file archive of 60 cells in the animation, I needed to prepare each cell to be added to the mutoscope's spindle. I did some small-scale prototyping, making sure I could achieve the desired result in the most efficient way.

My design challenge was that each animation frame needed to be split into two halves so that it could be displayed while spinning. I needed to figure out how I could streamline the production of print-ready documents. This is when I turn to the glory that is Photoshop Actions.

Photoshop Actions allow one to capture and record a series of editing choices applied to one photograph and then apply the same edits to a batch of photographs.

First, I applied a resizing automation to get all of the photographs resolution optimized for printing.

Then, I automated cropping and saving of the top half, and later bottom half, of each frame. I needed to segregate the tops and bottoms of the frames and mesh them into new files where the top half of one frame would be coupled with the bottom half of the following frame. This way, when the prints were being implemented into the spindle, it would create the illusion that they spanned across a single image plane.

Lastly, I created an action that would expand the canvas size of each of these halves back to the full size of the frame, populating the canvas with a partially empty space.

These actions gave me all the files I needed to re-assemble all of the cell data for each frame. Reassembling the halves couldn't be automated, so this part was a bit tedious, but I had already saved hours of editing time by automating the rest of the process, and it did go fairly fast.

I attached the Photoshop Actions I made for this project in this step, if you are brave enough to take this project on, you will need a fair amount of space on your hard-drive, as it populates a pretty big file tree.

Step 6: Automating File Formatting for Printing

With the 13" x 19" paper, I knew I could fit four frames on a sheet for printing. Instead of generating Photoshop documents one by one with 4 images on each sheet, I knew I could automate this process as well!

Adobe Bridge has this super awesome tool for generating contact sheets. You select the images you would like to print, and at what size, then it works with Photoshop to feed in the photographs you selected in file-numerical order.

You can find this command in Bridge>Tools>Photoshop>Contact Sheet II

In no time at all, I had created 15 print-ready pages with all 60 frames organized and numbered.

Step 7: Printing Photographs From Photoshop

This step will outline best practices when printing photographs from Photoshop, but gloss over some of the larger concepts and theories associated this workflow. The science behind digital printing is super cool, here's a reference if you're interested!

I break Printing into multiple levels of consideration and settings:

The Printer

For best practices when printing, first consider the hardware or you intend to use for printing your photographs. I knew I was going to use an Epson Stylus Photo R3000 Printer, so I wanted to select a print medium, or paper, that would work the best with this printer.

Paper Type

I really like the way Matte papers look and feel. They are malleable papers just like normal paper that would go into a copy machine but don't have any gloss coating that could get smudged or warped after printing. The matte paper does a really nice job of holding the color and can hold up to lots of handling. The R3000 has a max paper width of 13" so I purchased a package of Epson Presentation Matte 13"x19" paper to print all of the frames on.

ICC Profiles

ICC Profiles are proprietary print settings that printer manufacturers, like Epson, make for photo professionals to calibrate their computers to their printers, as well as the print media they are using. Without getting into the science of why they are important , you can look at all of the ICC profiles Epson makes for their papers and the R300 printers here.


In the Print dialog box in Photoshop, there is an option where Printer can manage Color Management, or Photoshop can manage Color Management. Allow Photoshop to manage colors, and then use the drop-down box to select your paper type. This will ensure that your colors look great, and your blacks aren't washed out in your print.

Sub Print Menus

In the Sub Print menu titled "Print Settings" you want to make sure that you enter the exact paper size, paper quality, ink type, and paper orientation that you intend to use.

If you follow this workflow, you will have great success!

Step 8: Cutting and Folding the Photos

If you've ever had to trim photos down for hanging or matting, you know that its a pain! With the help of a Rototrimmer, I was able to get precise measured cuts of each printed animation cell.

I then used a bone folder to precisely fold the cell's break - this break will rest in the cell-frames fabricated in a later step.

Put on some good tunes , and channel your inner slicing-robot - there is a lot of paper to cut down to size!

After Each photo was print and cut to size, I numbered the frame with it's corresponding file number and folded it with a bone folder.

Step 9: Designing the Spindle in Illustrator

Designing parts to be laser cut can be done in a multitude of programs, any program that is capable of generating a .dxf file can send a design to a laser. Because my background is in Photography/Videography, and I have been working in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premier forever, it was easy for me to jump into Adobe Illustrator where I designed all the parts for the spindle.

The design of the spindle is simply two circles, with slots for supports and holes to hold the stators of the animations' cells.

This is the first time I had ever really designed parts that had to move in this way. I decided to use bamboo shish kebab skewers to support the animation frames. They were more rigid and stronger than common dowel rod.

I knew the threaded rod of what would later be the crankshaft was 1/2" in diameter, and used the ellipse tool to generate a hole for it to rest in. Then, I used a calliper to measure the smaller diameter of the kabab skewers.

To generate all of the cut lines in this design, I used Illustrators Ellipse tool, and Rectangle tool to make these shapes, and cleaned them up with the transformation editor.

After I correctly sized and placed all of the holes for my cut pattern, I used the Control + D command to transform and duplicate the rotation of the holes that ride along the edges of the spindle.

To support the spindle, I designed four struts to prevent the spindle from torquing or collapsing under pressure. This took a few iterations, so if you decide to re-make the project with a different material besides wood, I would stress-test the your spindle without the cells of the animation in them.

Step 10: Lasercutting the Spindle

The Epilog Lasers we use at Pier 9 are capable of reading cut patterns from .ai files, which really simplifies this process.

I set the parameters for the cut and then sent the cut job to the laser. Pew! Pew!

When the laser was done cutting the parts, I did a quick dry test fit to make sure that my parts would fit properly.

Step 11: Assembling the Spindle

To Assemble the Spindle, I used a little bit of wood glue, a cotton swab, and some clamps.

Using a cotton swab like a paint brush, I covered the joints that needed to be secured with a thin layer of wood glue. With untreated plywood you really don't need that much adhesive, even a minimal amount of glue can ensure a firm hold. I snapped all the parts into place, and then secured with clamps while the glue set for 30 minutes.

Step 12: Cutting and Assembling the Box

I used my hands, along with a small dead-blow hammer, to pressure fit the bearing into the side walls of the box.

To form the box, I began by running a small bead of glue along the edges of the wood panels' finger joints. To further secure the glued parts, without clamps, I used an air compressor brad-gun with 1" brads.

For this project, we use 3/16" or .20 inches thick plywood. If you recreate the mutoscope it is important to note that you will have to adjust the size of the finger joints to the thickness of your material.

Step 13: Fitting the Stator

We cut down the threaded rod, making a stator for the spindle, to about 16"

This was long enough to go through both sides of the box, and leave room for the hand crank.

It was important to test fit the stator into the bearings, to make sure that the spindle would glide in the mutoscope while it is being turned, instead of jamming or sticking.

Step 14: Designing the Cells' Hanging Support Frames

To create the hanging support frames necessary to carry each cell of the animation, I needed to use a rigid, slightly heavy, but durable and thin material to back the paper. We turned to 1/16" Acrylic.

Fellow Design Studio wizard Jon-a-Tron helped me figure out the best way to maximize a 24"x36" sheet of acrylic, and generate all the parts needed for the support frames.

Each support frame consists of 3 parts, two 'hinges' and one plate. They slot-fit into one another with two elegant finger joints on each side.

These parts were generated by using the Pen tool to modify basic shapes made with the Ellipse tool and Rectangle tool.

Also included in this design file is a small frame catcher - we will talk about this part in a later step.

Step 15: Assembling the Cells-Frames

I used Acrylic Solvent Cement, and a needle squeeze applicator to adhere all of the component parts of the of the Hanging Support Frames together. A narrow hinge piece is added to both ends of the frame.

Tip: Squeeze the bottle before you invert it, pushing air out of it. This will help you have more pour control over the solvent cement.

Step 16: Adhering the Print to the Cell-frame Hangers.

Using a pliable adhesive called Zots, I stuck each printed cell to the acrylic support-frames. The best way to work with Zots is to never touch them. I applied each Zot from the paper directly onto the frame hanger, then bent the printed paper frames around the acrylic onto the hanger.

Step 17: Attaching the Frames on to the Spindle

I used bamboo shish-kebab skewers to hang the frames off the spindle. The bamboo was rigid and strong enough to support the weight of the hanging support frames as well as the prints' heavyweight paper.

I inserted each dowel into the holes around the top of the spindle, then secured it with a dab of hot glue. Hot glue is wonderful because it is strong enough to be a permanent solution but easy to remove if you need to reglue any component.

When I had all the dowels in on the top, and hot glued into place, I allowed it to cool then flipped the whole thing over to repeat the process and set the dowels on the other side of the spindle.

When all the glue was cool, I used a pair of snips to cut the points off the skewers.

Step 18: Assemble the Frame-catcher

By designing the frame catcher with a captive-nut joint, or Pettis Joint, the clear rounded rectangle acrylic sheet that was cut previously was inserted into the mutoscopes enclosure.

I used a small pair of pliers to jam #4-40 nuts into the wooden part, and some hex-head machine screws to secure it into place in the enclosure.

This part was added to capture the frames before they flip down, and help further the illusion of movement between cells.

Step 19: Threading the Spindle

This part was a little tricky to make photographs of, as everything is a snug fit within the box.

With the bearings in place, I was able to run the threaded rod with the hand crank attached through the box as well as the spindle. I have included a photograph of the where the hardware needs to go, without the spindle, so that is easier to understand how the nuts grip the bearings.

To get the nuts secured in hard to reach places, I found that the most helpful tool was a pair of extra long needle- nose welding pliers. They were strong enough to hold the nut in place, while I cranked the threaded rod into the right position.

Step 20: Get Crankin!

I set the frame catcher to a height that wouldn't slow the frames too much, but would still hold the frame long enough to sustain the animation. That's it! With a gentle gesture of a cranked rod, I was able to animate the bee flying into the poppy, and the gentle spring of the stem over and over and over and over again.

This was an amazingly fun project to work on from start to finish, and a great way to merge my background in photography and videography into my new found love of design and fabrication. I am so excited about being an artist in the digital age - we have the capability to use a computer like the Dell Precision as though it was a collaborator, it is more than just a tool, this technology inspires my process and helps me bring my dreams to life.