Introduction: Zoetrope - Human to Skeleton

Learn how to animate 3D printed objects! Zoetrope were some of the first examples or experiments with animation. Experience the magic of animation by following the 9 steps below to make your very own human to skeleton animation.

You will need:

Internet to use

3D Printer

Wooden Disk - (laser cut if nonpurchasable)

Poster Paper




Movable light

Paint and brushes


Hot Glue

Drill (possibly)


Step 1: Use Tinkercad

Head to to either hand build or import a human bust and skeleton. Overlay the two and using a sphere create holes in the bust to reveal parts of the skeleton. Create a total of 12 objects, each changing suddently until you have a full loop of a bust to a skeleton that starts and finishes with very similar looking objects. Create objects that are no bigger than 2 inches wide and no taller than 4 inches.

Step 2: 3D Print

With your 12 objects ready to print, head to a 3D printer and arrange all your designs on the software Cura which most likely accompanies the 3D printer. Make sure you separate each design into groups to minimize printing time and avoid errors. The design can likely fit 3 objects on one printing bed. Add printing supports to ensure that the design will not fail or fail apart during printing. This will add extra time but is very important. Once everything is arranged properly in Cura with supports and sectioned into groups, put your file on the flash drive designated for a 3D printer with enough filament to support the entire print. Now you can print! Be sure to stay for the first 20 minutes to make sure the print looks like it will succeed. Make sure the filament appears to be sticking to the printing bed, sometimes they can slip and then the print will use its grip and fail. Do this for all groups or for all the 12 objects. Printing should take around an average of 12 hours each but be patient! It will all be worth it.

Step 3: Remove Supports From the 3D Printed Objects

Once you pick up all your prints, you may be surprised by how they appear hidden because of all the supports. Not to stress, the supports can be taken off using pliers, scissors, or your fingers. Wear safety glasses or goggles to avoid can chucks of support getting your eyes. The process may be a little tricky but eventually, the supports will come off.

Step 4: Add Paint

Now that your objects are free of support, it is time to decorate them. You will probably have objects of all different colors if your 3D printers had different filament colors. Adding paint will make the objects look more realistic, decorative, and uniform. Consider using a white or beige color paint. This color is similar to a marble, Roman statue. Keep in mind your objects will be spinning quickly so small details will likely disappear. Begin painting by just trying to cover as much of the colored filament as possible using a bigger brush. After the first layer dries, use a smaller brush to add a marble texture by using swirl brush strokes. With the smallest brush, paint the rib cages of the skeletons and cut-outs of the bust black to create high contrast. If you want to add a spooky effect, consider painting the interior of the rib cages a mix of black and red.

Step 5: Gather Other Zoetrope Elements

Now that the 12 3D printed objects are drying, it is time to collect and decorate the other zoetrope pieces. You will need a wooden disk that resembles a record. Around a 12 inch diameter is recommended. This can be laser cut or bought. Make sure to drill a small hole in the middle of the disk around 2 cm big if you buy one. Using a ruler divide the disk into 12 wedges. Make sure each wedge is bigger enough to place one 3D printed object into it with enough room that the objects do not touch.

Once the disk is divide, grab thick poster paper. Make sure the poster paper is large enough to wrap around the sides of the disk like a crown. Cut a zig-zag pattern on the bottom edge of the paper that will touch the bottom of the disk. In the upper middle part of the paper, cut 6 slits around 2 inches apart, about 5 inches high and 1 cm wide. This will be like a cage in which you look through to animate the objects.

Step 6: Decorate Zoetrope Elements

The poster paper will act as the object's background so it's important to paint or decorate this in a way in which the objects will pop. Painting the poster paper black will provide for the most contrast against the white, marble objects.

The disk should match the theme, and the human to skeleton zoetrope mirrors a museum so the disk is painted gold. Make sure that you either mark where the objects will sit before painting. Do so by using a sharpie or marker to put a dot on where the center of the wedge is.

Step 7: Glue Down Objects and Connect Other Elements

Now with all their pieces dry, gather your 12 objects and the disk. To add extra animation, arrange the objects on the disk and rotate each around 30 degrees time each you place in on the disk. Before gluing make sure that the objects are arranged in an order that creates the loop. Once everything is arranged properly and rotating to show each side of the body once you are ready to glue them down. Hot glue is best to ensure they won't slip when they spin.

Once they are all glued and the glue has dried, attach the poster paper. With the zig-zagged edge facing the floor, attach the two ends of the paper together using tape or glue to create a circle in which you can carefully drop the disk into. Using hot glue, fold each zig-zag under the disk and attach it to the bottom. This is just for extra security.

Step 8: Get Your Turntable Ready

Now that your zoetrope is complete, it is time to watch the animation! Get a turntable and a movable light source. Put the disk on the turntable and aim the light down on the middle of the disk.

Step 9: Enjoy Your Zoetrope!

Turn off any other lights besides your light aimed at your zoetrope. Turn on the turntable and get down to the height of the slits in the poster paper. To further the effect, consider getting a strobe light. This will minimize the appearance of the poster paper. Through looking through the slits, you will be able to see each object spinning and animating from human to skeleton in a continuous loop! Enjoy watching your creation come to life!