Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A zoetrope is a device that produces an illusion of action from a rapid succession of static pictures.
It consists of a cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides. Beneath the slits, on the inner surface of the cylinder, is a band which has either individual frames from a video/film or images from a set of sequenced drawings or photographs. As the cylinder spins, the user looks through the slits at the pictures on the opposite side of the cylinder's interior. The scanning of the slits keeps the pictures from simply blurring together, so that the user sees a rapid succession of images producing the illusion of motion, the equivalent of a motion picture. Cylindrical zoetropes have the property of causing the images to appear thinner than their actual sizes when viewed in motion through the slits.
The zoetrope was invented in 1834 by George Horner , who called it a "daedalum" or "daedatelum". Horner's invention was based on a similar device, the phenakistoscope, invented in 1832 by Joseph Plateau. William F. Lincoln promoted Horner's device in America as a "zoetrope".
The praxinoscope was an improvement on the zoetrope that became popular toward the end of the nineteenth century.
The earliest projected moving images were displayed by using a magic lantern zoetrope. This crude projection of moving images occurred as early as the 1860's. A magic lantern praxinoscope was demonstrated in the 1880's.
Zoetrope development continues into the twenty-first century, primarily with the "Linear zoetrope." A linear zoetrope consists of an opaque linear screen with thin vertical slits in it. Behind each slit is an image, often illuminated. One views the motion-picture by moving past the display.
Linear zoetropes have several differences compared to cylindrical zoetropes that derive from their different geometries. They can have arbitrarily long animations. They also cause images to appear wider than their actual sizes when viewed in motion through the slits.
In September 1980, independent filmmaker Bill Brand installed a type of linear zoetrope he called the "Masstransiscope" in an unused subway platform in Brooklyn, New York. It consisted of a linear wall with 228 slits in the face. Behind each slit was a hand-painted panel. Riders in subways moving past the display saw a motion-picture within.
Joshua Spodek, as an astrophysics graduate student, conceived of and led the development of a class of linear zoetropes that saw the first commercial success of a zoetrope in over a century. A display of his design debuted in September 2001 in a tunnel of the Atlanta subway system and showed an advertisement to riders moving past. That display is internally lit and nearly 300 meters long. Its motion-picture was about twenty seconds long.
His design soon appeared in subway systems elsewhere in North America, Asia, and Europe. Joshua has also participated in a renaissance in zoetrope related art and other noncommercial expression.
The word "zoetrope" is a combination of Greek words. It might mean something roughly like "Wheel of Life" or "Living Wheel".
- Further information and a picture can be found here.
- An exhibit of similar optical toys, including the phenakistoscope and praxinoscope
- Bill Brand's Masstransiscope can be found here.
- Joshua Spodek's contribution to linear zoetropes can be found here and here
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