The zoetrope is an early animation device that delighted children and adults during the late 19th century. It uses an optical trick to make a series of still images seem as though they are moving. Through this activity, your students will build their own zoetrope. They will also plan and create their own animated sequences.
Overview and Background
In this activity students will:
i) Learn how a zoetrope makes it appear that a series of still images are moving;
ii) Have a chance to express their creativity by designing their own zoetrope strips.
Additional and Background Information
The zoetrope is one of the earliest animation devices. Invented in 1834 by William George Horner, it was originally named the Daedalum or “wheel of the devil”. It was not very popular until around 1867, when it was rediscovered and patented by William F. Lincoln in the U.S., and Milton Bradley in England. It was Lincoln who gave it the name “zoetrope” or “wheel of life”. With the invention of more sophisticated animation devices, such as the praxinoscope, and ultimately film and television— interest in the zoetrope declined significantly. Today, it is rare to find a zoetrope in a person’s home, although it is still used by some artists and animators.
Note: The original 3D scan of the zoetrope artifact is named “Zoetrope-artifact.stl“. It is meant to be viewed in a virtual environment using computer software. You can try printing it off, though we cannot guarantee the quality. We have modified the model into a more useable form (“Zoetrope-modified-base.stl“ and “Zoetrope-modified-stand.stl“), which is what you will be using in this activity.
For additional information and more educational activities on zoetropes, please visit:
Lesson Plan and Activity
For this activity you and your class will be using templates that we have provided. The exact template that you use with your class will depend on their age. For younger students, you can use the zoetrope pre-drawn template of faces, on which your students will only need to add mouths. We’ve included an example of what could be done. For older students, you can use the zoetrope blank strip template, on which your students can decide what images they want to draw.
1) Ask your students to plan what they want to draw on each of the panels of the zoetrope strip. A good idea is to have them sketch their ideas on a piece of rough paper before actually drawing it onto the zoetrope strip. Some general hints that you can give them:
i. Keep things simple.
ii. Have the strip begin and end with similar images. This way, the zoetrope strip will show a continuous sequence of images when spun. This is called a “looping animation”.
2) Cut out the strips from either the zoetrope pre-drawn template or the zoetrope blank strip template along the dotted lines.
3) Have your students draw their planned image sequence on the strips. Leave about 1.2 cm of blank space at the bottom if you’re using the zoetrope blank strip template to ensure that the base doesn’t interfere with the animation.
4) To use these newly designed strips, your student will need to build a zoetrope. To do this, follow the instructions below.
For these instructions, the following naming conventions will be used (see Image 1 in the Main Image Viewer).
Constructing the Drum
1) Using the dotted lines, cut out one of the drums from the zoetrope drum template. If your printer cannot print edge to edge, extend the top and bottom of the zoetrope drum so that the edges of the paper serve as the drum’s edge (similar to what it looks like when viewed as a PDF).
2) Form a cylinder by attaching one side of the drum to the other. For best results, slightly overlap the edges by about 2 mm.
Making the Zoetrope Strip
1) Attach the ends of the zoetrope strip to form a cylinder. The greyed-out section at the end of the strip can overlap the other end. If your printer is not able to print “edge to edge” you can use the paper’s margin to serve as this tab.
Building the Zoetrope
1) Place the pen in the stand. Make sure that it is pointing upward and that the top of the pen extends at least 4 cm beyond the top of the stand (Image 2 in the Main Image Viewer).
2) Insert the bottom edge of the drum into the slots at the ends of the arms of the base (Image 3 in the Main Image Viewer).
3) Place the cylindrical zoetrope strip into the zoetrope drum. For best results, ensure that each image is directly across from a slit in the drum (Image 4 in the Main Image Viewer).
4) Insert the base with the drum and strips onto the pen in the stand.
5) Your zoetrope is now ready (Image 5 in the Main Image Viewer)!
The animation produced by the zoetrope is based on something called persistence of vision. Persistence of vision is when, after seeing an object, our brains retain an image of the object for about 1/30 of a second after we stop looking at it. In a zoetrope, as you look through one of the slits, you see an image. Our brain then retains the image until the next image appears making it seem as though one image is “moving” to the next one. The slits in the zoetrope are important because they limit observation of each image to a brief moment. Without the slits, the spinning images in a zoetrope would become a blur.
1 – Set of 3D zoetrope parts (“Zoetrope-modified-base.stl“ and “Zoetrope-modified-stand.stl“)
1 – Printout zoetrope drum template^
1 – Pen
1 – Scissors
1 – Printout of the zoetrope blank strip template or zoetrope pre-drawn template^
1 – Tape
Pencil, crayons (something to draw)
^ Note: Print the drum template onto a tabloid-sized piece of cardstock (279 mm x 432 mm or 11” x 17”). Print the other templates onto tabloid-sized pieces of paper. When printing do not “print to fit”; make sure it prints at 100%. If possible, have your printer print “edge to edge”.