Home Chapter 13 Projects

# Projects

## Building a Zoetrope

Premise: Muybridge's discovery of rapidly-paced still photos creating the appearance of continuous motion was an early step in the advent of motion pictures. Experimenters and inventors all attempting to capitalize on this new revelation created machines and gadgets that incorporated still photos or drawings whirling through space—all attempting to replicate the magic of real life motion. One of the first inventions was the zoetrope.

A zoetrope is a rotating cylinder with vertical slots along its top edge, and sequential still images in its interior. As the cylinder spins, the slots create a stroboscopic effect when the viewer looks "through" them. It is "roughly" the principle behind the motion picture projector.

Because the number of still images (and therefore, the length of each "film") was limited by the size of the cylinder, early zoetrope animations were very short. It wasn't until George Eastman perfected the continuous celluloid film loop that we began to see actual films of substantial length. Still, zoetropes had their place in the evolution of film, and they are remarkably easy to build!

Time required to do this project: Allow four hours—two to build the zoetrope, and two more to do several animations.

*Materials: A plastic "lazy susan" serving carousel from a discount store; a sheet or scrap piece of "gray board" at least 40" long; paper, cut into 3" x 40" strips (adding machine paper works great!); scissors; felt tip pens; pencil; 36" ruler; and duct tape and Scotchtape®.

How to start: Start by measuring the diameter of your serving carousel. Mine is a Rubbermaid® Model 230T (raised letters on back) and is 10 1/4" in diameter. Multiplying that by 3.1416, I came up with 32.2" as a circumference. The circumference plus 1/2" will be the length of the gray board—it should be 6" or 7" wide.

Now you need to measure out 16 equal spaces along one edge of the grayboard. Each space will be about 2" wide. Mark with a pencil. From the center of each mark, make two new marks, 1/8" on either side. From each of these marks, draw a line down 2". These thin rectangles should now be cut out with scissors so that they become slots. The result should look like the illustration below.

The next step is to attach the piece of grayboard to the carousel. Use the duct tape in small squares, and across the seam where the two ends meet. At the meeting point you might have to improvise another slot for continuity! When you're done, it should look something like the illustration above. You have completed the zoetrope, so now what?

Take a strip of the white paper and place it in the zoetrope tight to the inside wall. Mark where it overlaps, cut it at the mark so that you have a strip of paper that fits tightly in the bottom of the zoetrope against the inside wall. Remove the strip, and mark off 16 equal spaces, or cells.

Now, you can try your hand at animation. For this process, I don't have a great deal of advice, but I can tell you that the animation you're going to make will last about a second, and replay many times! I recommend that you use broad felt pens, and try something simple like the animation below—one of my own that you can download!

After you print it out, enlarge it with a photocopy machine so that each frame is the same size as one of the frames of your paper strip. To see how the zoetrope works, cut the "Bouncing Ball Movie" (no rating available) into four horizontal strips, and Scotchtape® them together in order, 1-16. Place the film in the zoetrope, tight against the bottom inside wall below the slots, and tape it in several spots. (below left)

To view the "movie," reach into the zoetrope with one hand (center), place your fingertips on the bottom of the carousel, and spin! Look at the film through the slots as they're spinning (right). You'll see five or six balls on the inside wall of the zoetrope bouncing up and down exuberantly!

Some other ideas: One of the first things I did to test my zoetrope was to take some of the early sequential motion photographs of various artists and photocopy them to the size of my zoetrope frames. You can see horses galloping, men running, etc.

Or, with felt pens, create your own one-second animations. Try spheres turning, stick figures jumping, etc. Some students have done very elaborate projects using color and employing "dimensional space."

*About materials: Most of these materials are available at craft stores, department stores such as Target or Wal-Mart, or college bookstores. "Grayboard" is an inexpensive cardboard backing used for matted prints. It's usually available at art supply stores for under \$3.00 per sheet. Illustration board and matt board are too stiff for this project. You can order most materials through Dick Blick, Inc.