Do you know what a Zoetrope animation is? You probably have if you enjoy animation. Let’s learn all there is to know about a zoetrope. An old-fashioned type of animation technology is the zoetrope. It is a gadget that displays a number of images or drawings in a cylindrical or drum-shaped container, giving the impression that they are moving.

What Is Zoetrope Animation? How Does Zoetrope Work?
What Is Zoetrope Animation? How Does Zoetrope Work?

What is a zoetrope in animation?


The original zoetrope was created in 1834 by a mathematician named William Horner. It was given the name Dadatelum at first. The “Wheel of the devil,” which was its original moniker, was forgotten thanks to technology. When it was unearthed in 1867, French investor Pierre Desvignes gave it the name Zoetrope. The name is taken from the Greek word roots trope, which means turning, and zoo, which refers to animal life.

A sequence of successive images on a zoetrope is spun to provide the impression of motion. It is based on the human retina’s ability to hold onto an image for approximately one-tenth of a second.

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Examples of zoetrope animation

The American Dream was symbolized in 2012 by a CGI 3D zoetrope carousel made by the Berlin-based animation studio Sehsucht.

What Is Zoetrope Animation? How Does Zoetrope Work?
Examples of zoetrope animation

Artem Limited, a visual effects business based in the UK, constructed a 10-meter-wide, 10-metric-ton zoetrope for Sony in 2008. The BRAVIA drome, which was dubbed the longest zoetrope in the world by Guinness World Records, contained 64 photos of Brazilian footballer Kaká.

A human-sized zoetrope room called “the Saturation Chamber” could be seen in the 1999 American horror film House on Haunted Hill.

A 3D zoetrope with characters from the Japanese animation studio’s 1988 animated film My Neighbor Totoro is on display at the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo.

Pixar’s Toy Story Zoetrope, which was influenced by Ghibli, spawned two additional 3D zoetropes. The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, has one installed, and Disneyland Paris has the other.

What Is Zoetrope Animation? How Does Zoetrope Work?
Examples of zoetrope animation

A zoetrope spun by actor Daniel Radcliffe is seen through by the title figure in the 2012 horror movie The Woman in Black.

For an ident that was aired before TV shows and on the BBC iPlayer from 2007 to 2014, BBC Two used a zoetrope to simulate the movement of flying cars through a futuristic cityscape.

The Zoetrope toy from The Conjuring 2’s demonic terror is haunted (2016).

The Gap, a retailer of clothing, created a life-size zoetrope to advertise its “Meet Me in the Gap” campaign. People dancing on the spot were included in the enormous multicolored wheel, which when paired with the rotating cylinder and 360-degree video produced an immersive movement and color experience.

The Blue Man Group, an American performance art group, used a fast-spinning carousel to produce a zoetrope effect during their performances in Florida and Las Vegas.

In a TV commercial, the UK supermarket Sainsbury’s commemorated its 150th birthday in 2019 with a massive zoetrope cake.

In 2021, an advertisement for Volkswagen was produced by the New York advertising firm Johannes Leonardo. Eight intricate zoetropes that made up The Wheel each told a different chapter in the evolution of transportation. Each was created using a variety of techniques, including 3D stop motion, cel animation, photography, and hand sketching.

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What other technologies did Zoetropes lead to?

Other devices came after zoetropes. The praxinoscope and flip books, for instance, followed. These two provide the appearance of moving images.

Motion films were also produced using the same fundamental ideas that gave rise to the zoetrope. Even now, zoetropes are still employed for their visual effects. For making animated GIFs, as an illustration. In video display technologies like streaming video, they are also utilized.

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History of zoetrope animation

What Is Zoetrope Animation? How Does Zoetrope Work?
History of zoetrope animation

The phenakisticope was created in 1833 by Austrian inventor Simon Stampfer and Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau. This disc is regarded as the first widely used animation tool. Stampfer remarked that the method might be modified to include cylinders and looped paper strips in a brochure that July.

Observing this, British mathematician William Horner produced the first zoetrope in 1834. In a homage to the Greek story of Daedalus, he gave it the name “daedalum.” In contrast to later variants, which featured viewing slits above the pictures, Horner’s revolving drum had them between the images.

The name zoetrope, which is a combination of the Greek words Zoe (life) and tropos (turning) and means “wheel of life,” was copyrighted by William Lincoln in 1867.

The cylinders were first offered for sale in the US by the board game business Milton Bradley, while London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company offered equivalent products in the UK. They gained popularity as a Victorian parlor game. Children enjoyed spinning their zoetropes and marveling at the crude animations of horses and other animals in motion.

Soon after, a massive gas-powered zoetrope measuring 50 feet in circumference was on show in the concert hall of London’s Crystal Palace.

The praxinoscope and flip books were followed by other animation tools. Zoetropes and other similar technologies and fundamental ideas eventually inspired the development of motion pictures in the late 1880s.

In the late 20th century, zoetropes saw a rebirth and began to be used and updated more frequently, possibly in response to digital technology. Eric Dyer, an animator, created his own version by doing away with the drum and using a camera’s quick shutter speed in place of slits. He created “cinetropes,” or experimental films, from 3D sculptures.

Large, elaborate, and an increasing number of 3D replicas were produced, building on the zoetrope rebirth. Characters from Toy Story 2 can be seen in a 3D zoetrope made by Pixar Animation Studios (1999). There have been exhibitions of the Toy Story zoetrope in museums and galleries all over the world.

GIF animation on the Internet might be seen as the zoetrope’s modern replacement due to its looped image sequences.

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How to make a zoetrope

What Is Zoetrope Animation? How Does Zoetrope Work?
How to make a zoetrope

What you’ll need

  • Zoetrope model. There are many templates available online that you can use or get ideas from. Using pictures of galloping horses is a common illustration.
  • Chopping stick Use one from a Chinese delivery service or consider placing a large purchase online, especially if you intend to make more than one.
  • There is one CD. These days, you can listen to music by streaming without affecting your CD collection. You can put them to use for the following.
  • Two zinc-plated, 1/8″ x 1″ fender washers. These are available online or at most hardware stores.
  • Scissors
  • Tape

Making the zoetrope

Step 1: Get the strip ready. Your template’s strips should be cut out. Along the dotted lines, fold the two strips. The viewing slits are then made by cutting out the designated rectangles on the template from both strips. Fold the pages together and secure them with tape loops.

Step 2: Assemble the strip. Tape the sheets together to form a circle with the images on the inside. Be careful to prevent any tape from folding inside. The circle’s edge should then be taped to the CD’s edge. Make sure there are no bulges and maintain the circle’s roundness as much as feasible.

Step 3: Zoetrope construction. Put one washer firmly over the chopstick’s tapered end. Make sure the zoetrope strip is facing up before setting the CD in the washer. Then, sandwich the CD between the two washers by putting the second washer over the tapered end. To secure the top washer to the chopstick, use a little piece of tape. Make sure the washer is not taped to the CD.

Step 4: Utilize the zoetrope. Hold it with a small incline. Spin the CD and peer through the slits you created. The images throughout ought to be dynamic and provide the impression of movement. Spin the CD in the opposite direction if they’re going backward. It could take some trial and error to find the ideal CD-spinning speed for the animation.

Zoetrope ideas

The best concepts for zoetropes (literally) revolve around the notion of basic movements. To get you started, here is a handful of the most widely used:

  • Animals. horses galloping, elephants strolling, birds flying, lions jumping, and fish swimming.
  • People. athletes, kids, cartoon characters, dancers, weightlifters, jugglers, and athletes.
  • Shapes. Stars that are contracting and growing, tumbling sticks, and decreasing and growing circles.


What purpose does the zoetrope serve?

You may have seen animated GIFs created with Zoetrope in videos and mobile applications like WhatsApp. Additionally, it aids with display technology such as video streaming, etc. Animation is frequently employed in the marketing sector to promote items.

Where is the Pixar zoetrope?

The beloved characters from the well-known movie My Neighbor Totoro (1993), including Totoro, Mei, Satsuki, Catbus, and others, also appear in this zoetrope, which is housed in the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

How many frames is a zoetrope?

The trick on the eye gets worse as frames per second increase. The minimum frame rate is 12 frames per second, while the ideal frame rate is 24. To prevent flicker, a zoetrope rotating swiftly at one rotation per second needs 12 frames. However, due to zoetropes’ inherent nostalgic appeal, their flickering quality frequently contributes significantly to their allure.

How quickly should a zoetrope rotate?

An average zoetrope rotates at fewer than 100 rpm. A yo-yo, in contrast, can spin at 5,000 rpm on a typical toss. Another aspect of the zoetrope’s unique appeal to animators and viewers alike is its relative sluggishness.


The Zoetrope animation, like previous motion simulation devices, depends on the human retina’s ability to hold a picture in memory for around a tenth of a second. The brain blends any subsequent images if one emerges within that interval, making the sequence look uninterrupted.

A 3D zoetrope could be created using models and static artwork. A 3D zoetrope can be made without the use of 3D printing technology using a spinning turntable, pipe cleaners, papier-mâché, a turntable, and a strobe light.

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