centre for animation & interactive media

Animation Notes #3
A Short History (part II)
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Animation - as we might understand it as a technical process of synthesising motion from a series of static images - precedes the invention of the cinematograph by several decades. It has its roots in the numerous parlour-game toys popular in the early 1800s which experimented with persistence of vision effect known as the Phi phenomenon.

One device of the times which demonstrated this effect was the Thaumatrope accredited to three different people, Dr Fitton of London, Peter Roget and/or London physicist John Ayrton Paris. However it is known that Paris used his device to show the Phi phenomenon to the Royal College of Physicians in 1824. Its consisted of a disc with an image painted on each side. When the disc was spun by pulling on a twisted pair of strings, the images seemed to be combined - a bird on one side of the disc would appear in the empty cage on the other side. 'Trope' comes from the Greek word for 'things that turn'. 'Thauma' means wondrous, therefore a thaumatrope is a 'turning marvel' or 'wonder turner'.

Two important novelties of the day which harnessed the persistence of vision effect were invented simultaneously and independently during 1832. Joseph Plateau (Ghent, Belgium) who coined his toy the Phenakistiscope (Greek for 'deceptive view'), while Professor Simon Ritter von Stampfer of the Polytechnical Institute (Vienna, Austria) called his invention the Stroboscope ('apparition-box-viewer'). These devices were also known under other names such as: Fantascope, Phantamascope, Magic Disc or Kaleidorama.

These toys had a disc carrying a sequence of images set in a ring around the circumference. When the disc was spun, the drawings were viewed through small slits cut into the disc which provided the visual interruptions needed for the eye to meld the images together thus creating the impression of motion.

The Phenakistiscope disc is mounted on a spindle and viewed through the slots with the images facing a mirror. A person looking through the slits from the back of the disc would see a moving image reflected in the mirror. The Stroboscope (not illustrated here) had a separate counter spinning disc for the viewing slots and it was possible to see the movement without the use of a mirror. The discs of the day were either abstract patterns or performers such as jugglers or acrobats.

An actual Phenakistiscope disc circa 1833. Roll over the above image to active this digital version which has far more visual clarity than could be obtained by viewing the images through the slits of the actual apparatus.

The Zoetrope was invented by William George Horner in 1834. He named his device Daedalum or 'wheel of the devil'. This optical toy was forgotten for about 30 years until it was discovered and almost simultaneously patented in 1867 by William F. Lincoln, USA and in England by Milton Bradley. It was from Lincoln that the device received its new name Zoetrope, meaning 'wheel of life' from the Greek word 'zoo' for animal life and 'trope' for 'things that turn'.

Horner's Zoetrope was an adaptation of the principles of the Phenakistoscope. However it was more convenient than Plateau's invention in that it eliminated the need for a mirror and allowed several people to view the motion at one time. It was constructed of an open-top drum into which was placed a hand drawn sequence of pictures on a strip of paper facing inwards. The outside of the drum had slits cut into the cylindrical surface. When the drum was spun on a central axis, the images could be viewed through the slits giving rise to the illusion of movement. To see a newspaper advertisement of the day
<click here>

For the work of comtemporay artists working with modern Zoetrope
<click here>

Versions of history often tend to be Western centric. It is also reported that an unknown Chinese inventor created a similar device around 180 - if true, that would push the history of synthesised motion back by 17 centuries!

In 1877, Frenchman Charles Émile Reynaud, painter of lantern slides, refined the principle of the Zoetrope to use reflected light creating the Praxinoscope (patented December 1877). This was the first device to overcome the blurred distortion caused by viewing through narrow fast moving slots and it quickly replaced the Zoetrope in popularity. Like the Zoetrope, a paper strip of pictures is placed inside a shallow outer cylinder, so that each picture is reflected by the inner set of mirrors. The number of mirror facets equaled the number of pictures on the paper strip. When the outer cylinder rotates, the quick succession of images reflected in the mirrors gives the illusion of movement. This produced a image that was more brilliant and sharper than with any previous device.

The following year Reynaud added a patent supplement for an improvement - the Praxinoscope Theatre. The mirror drum and cylinder were set in a wooden box with a glass-covered viewing aperture which reflected a card printed with a background. The moving subjects - a juggler, clowns, a steeple-chase - were printed on a black band, and appeared superimposed on a suitable scene. The background artwork could be changed (see below, right)

Reynaud managed to adapt the principle behind his Praxinoscope to project a series of pictures onto a screen at a size suitable for presentation to a large audience. On 28 October 1892 Reynaud premièred 'Pauvre Pierrot' at his 'Theatre Optique' in Paris 1892 - the very first moving pictures shown publicly via projection onto a screen. To see a poster for this event,
<click here>

The standard Praxinoscope could only accommodate a second or two of animation because of the limited number of pictures contained on the paper strip. Reynaud, a painter of lantern slides, painted images on gelatine squares fastened between leather bands, with holes in metal strips between each picture. These holes engaged in pins on a revolving wheel, so that each picture was aligned with a facet of the mirror drum. This was the first commercial use of sprocket hole perforations that was to be so important for successful cinematography and anticipated other cinematic devices such as the spool of film. A background image from a separate magic lantern slide was projected over the animated figures (right).

Reynaud set up this apparatus behind a translucent screen and gave most of the presentations himself, deftly manipulating the picture bands to and fro to extend the sequences, creating a twelve or fifteen minute performance from the 500 gelatine images. Other titles prepared for his 'Theatre Optique' ran to an astonishing 700 images.

The first public performance to a large audience of moving animated projected images at Reynaud's 'Theatre Optique' in Paris 1892. A practical motion picture recording and projection device arived a few years later making Reynaud's hand made picture bands too uneconomical to produce. His Theatre

Such shows as Charles Reynaud's 'Theatre Optique' draw upon the earlier 17th century invention of the magic lantern. Presentations to a large gathering became an artform and fascinated audiences of the day with illusions of light and movement. The magic lantern or Laterna Magica was the ancestor of the modern slide projector. It was first described in Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, by Athanasius Kircher in 1671. He may have been describing an already existing device rather than announcing a new invention. With an oil lamp and a lens, images painted on glass plates could be projected on to a suitable screen; the ancestor of the modern slide projector.

By the 19th century, there was a thriving trade of itinerant projectionists, who would travel the country with their magic lanterns, and a large number of slides, putting on shows in towns and villages. Some of the slides came with special effects, by means of extra sections that could slide or rotate across the main plate. One of the most famous of these, very popular with children, was the 'rat-swallower', where a series of rats would be seen leaping into a sleeping man's mouth. Such elaborate hand-coloured glass slides had articulated levers which allowed parts of one image to be moved against another or with a twin lens projector, be dissolved together.

Read on....
"Hey!" says dino...
"Don't they know
my great, great, great
grandpa invented the
a million years ago"





Optical Toys


Modern Zoetropes






GIF animations for the web - the new Zoetrope





The Thaumatrope
(roll over the bird to activate)
John Paris used his thaumatrope invention (1824) to demonstrate the persistence of vision phenomenon to the Royal College of Physicians
(roll over the bird to activate)

The Phenakistiscope needed a mirror on which to see the animating images through slits in the disc.
The Zoetrope invented by William George Horner in 1834 needed no mirror to view its images.
The Praxinoscope, invented in 1877 by the Frenchman Charles Emile Reynaud, used mirrors instead of slits to produce a clearer image.
The faceted mirrors used in Reynaud's Praxinoscope.
An adaptation of the Praxinoscope the 'Praxinoscope Theatre' allowed a background image to be combined with the animating images reflected in the mirrors in the centre of the device.
"Animated Projections" proclaims this poster for Reynaud's patented adaption to his Pranxinoscope to project moving images onto a wall. "A new optical toy... uses an ordinary lamp"
A magic latern show as entertainment for the whole family. Familiar?
A very early hand painted glass slide with a lever to jiggle the image.
A hand painted glass slide with a second sliding component which animates the figure. Opague black paint alternatively masks the unwanted potion of the slide.
A more modern magic lantern featuring twin lenses in order to dissolve two images together to create a magical animated transition - a spring scene into a winter scene, for example.


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