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
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
|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
For the work of comtemporay artists working with modern Zoetrope,
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
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
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.
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.
"Don't they know
my great, great, great
grandpa invented the
a million years ago"
SOURCES AND OTHER REFERENCES:
GIF animations for the web - the new Zoetrope