Things aren’t always as we see or perceive them. There are many ways to trick your eyes with optical illusions and 3D images. A fun trick to play on your eyes is with a zoetrope. This classic tool turns multiple images into animation.

A zoetrope produces the illusion of motion by running several static pictures back to back. It’s the simplest form of cartoon animation. Similar to flip books that feature a picture per page that changes slightly. As the pages flip, the drawings jump to life and animate. A zoetrope is a cylinder version of a flip book.

Strobe Light AnimatorThe term zoetrope comes from the Greek words zoe = “life” and tropos = “turn.”

The cylinder has to contain vertical slits on the sides. The inside has a band of sequenced pictures. As it spins, the viewer looks through the slits and watches a cartoon animation. The slits keep the images from blurring together and produce an illusion of movement.

Materials

  • Circular cardboard container (4″ diameter)
  • Ruler
  • Plastic thumbtack
  • Marker
  • Utility knife
  • Zoetrope template
  • Scissors
  • Electrical tape

How to make your own zoetrope cartoon animator | Steve Spangler Science

How to make your own zoetrope cartoon animator | Steve Spangler ScienceExperiment

  1. Use a ruler to measure 3″ from the bottom of the circular cardboard container. Place marks along the outside of the container as a cutting guide.
  2. As an aid, wrap electrical tape around the container along the 3″ markings you created.
  3. Use a utility knife to cut the container along the tape guideline.
  4. If you want to make a Geyser zoetrope, download the zoetrope template here and print it out on legal size paper. Using a pair of scissors, carefully cut it out.
  5. Wrap the template around the container, near the open end, and create marks on the container that align with the template’s black lines.
  6. Remove the template and lengthen the lines to around 1″. The lines should also be about 1/16th of an inch wide. Error on the narrower side.
  7. Push a plastic thumbtack (the kind that stick out) through the bottom of the can. Try to make sure the tack is centered.
  8. Use a small piece of electrical tape, inside the container, to hold the tack in place.
  9. Try spinning the apparatus using the tack. If you’re able to give the container a decent spin, you’ve done well!
  10. Wrap the zoetrope template into the inside of the container.
  11. Look through the slits that you’ve cut and into the container. You should be able to make out one or two of the images inside.
  12. Spin the apparatus using the tack and gaze inside. The geyser zoetrope comes to life!

 

Visit the experiment page for more on the science behind how a zoetrope works.

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