Adventures in Zoetrope Animation

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First things first, remember when you got your mathematics tin set at school and you played with it all and thought I’ll never need this…’ well, if you want to have a go at making a zoetrope you’re going to need to fire up your math student brain, find a compass and remember what pi is!

you will need a compass

you will need a compass…

I am putting together a set of resources for an introduction to animation I will shortly be presenting, in line with the teaching course that I am currently studying for, and I wanted to get the students to create an animation and understand  keyframes, movement and persistence of vision (which means our brains see still images as moving).

Now in the short time I have, they won’t be able to create a full blown animation, so I’ll be guiding them through how to make a real basic staple of animation, a walkcycle, consisting of just 12 frames, running cyclically.

I don’t have a fancy animation rostrum hooked up to a massive projector or anything but need to be able to show the class the results, almost instantly, and I hit on the idea of putting those frames into a zoetrope viewing device, so that they can all have a go and see what happens with the movement they create.

Cutting the base

Cutting the base circle

I’m pretty handy with a scalpel so dug out some foamboard to make the basic structure of the zoetrope itself.

I started with the size of frame I wanted them to draw on becuase I didn’t want it to be too small an area, and then worked backwards, calculating a regular space in between and ended up with a strip 670mm long and 70mm tall.

This is where you need your pi and compass, take the 670 and divide it by pi to get the circumference of the circle you need for the base, divide this in half and set your pair of compasses up to draw your circle and cut!

Admittedly it didn’t quite fit on the first cut, I put this down to the very worn compasses that I managed to eventually find in my daughters room, under some books, but it was larger than needs be so I re-trimmed a slither and it fit!

Zoetrope and base now fitted after a little re-trim

Zoetrope and base now fitted after a little re-trim

Using a thin ribbon of double sided sticky tape around the bottom provided a good snug fit

Using a thin ribbon of double sided sticky tape around the bottom provided a good snug fit

The outside wall I add is 670mm x 140mm, laminated and cut, with the frames and slit marks printed on one side and all black on the outside so I have a register for my animation and a template to cut for the thin viewing holes.


You can see the slit holes have been cut out in this shot

I also needed to work out how to get it to spin, this was something I mulled over and looked at other ways to do it, but I didn’t have any ‘lazy susan’ bearings as one suggested and didn’t like the twizzle it in your hand method often used in other ‘how to’s’ .

Searching for another method I looked around my desk for inspiration and found a DVD case, one of those ones for a 100 discs, with a long spindle, playing with it I discovered that the discs, when spun, quite happily turned and kept moving fairly easily – aha! I had found a really cheap easy option to making my zoetrope spin.

CD stuck to the bottom of the base

CD stuck to the bottom of the base

I stuck one disk to the bottom of the base and added a few padding layers of foam board to bring the height of the zoetrope up…

cutting extra padding discs of foamboard

cutting extra padding discs of foamboard

The extra layers added to the spindle and free turning CD on the top which would spin against the one of the base

The extra layers added to the spindle and free turning CD on the top which would spin against the one of the base

I experimented with having 1 or 2 extra cds underneath, and found that 2 worked best to give a smoother turn.

Finished and in testing with my walkcycle animation

Finished and in testing with my walkcycle animation

All was working, it spun fairly well – I would like to improve this, but cost and time are against me – but the last obstacle was that my line drawn animation just didn’t show up when spun, another 12 frame cycle I had which was solid black shapes worked really well, so out with the felt tips to colour mine in and hey presto… zoetrope resource… done!

Below you’ll find a link to my pdf templates so you can have a go too!

zoetrope template copy

Zoetropes – hits and misses

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Today we had our first practical workshop, learning how to make 3D zoetropes with Graeme Hawkins aka retchy. He has done some amazing stuff with 3D zoetropes and projection mapping in the past and it was fantastic to be able to pick his brains and get the man the man who has been playing with this for the last two years advising us and letting us play.
I think I can speak for most of the other guys on the 1st year that this was a great experience and one we all wish could have been for the whole day, but the sandpit task was calling.

Here is my first attempt, it works, but it’s a bit too smooth, with no real ‘life’.
In the afternoon we got to experiment more with actually building a 3D model out of plasticine, but I decided that I would try with cut-outs of my Great Bustard walkcycle, so after printing it out a bit smaller, I spent an hour cutting the tiny birds out with a scalpel… all 33 of them! After sticking them down into the allotted 1.5cm space on the ‘magic wheel’ I approached the turntable with intrepidation… would it work, I spent a hell of a long-time and I couldn’t test it, like I could when I did my first bouncing shape test in pencil, press start and…
No, it didn’t work…
But, it worked to some degree, the cutouts of the upper body and neck/head looked good, weren’t too messy and pretty much stayed in the same place.
The legs, which are quite blurry on the printout I kept in with the background for ease of moving about, but were just of such poor definition, you can’t see the bird’s walk at all…
oh well, I did know that was dark, and shows that you do need to have things clear and crisp, if you want to keep the fine detail…
An absolutely fantastic day, playing and actually animating!