Sunday, June 14, 2009

Making a Zoetrope

Last night after the children went to bed, I played around with a prototype of a zoetrope project, that I'm hoping to have the children work on later today. A zoetrope is a way of tricking the eye into seeing moving pictures, by looking through slots in a spinning black tube. It's something I'm pretty sure they've seen at a children's museum somewhere in the past, but I thought it might be fun for them to make a simple version themselves. They work in a very similar manner to flip book animation, turning several still pictures into a moving sequence, but without the flipping.

I'm thinking I might run the kids through a flip book tutorial first, to give them an introduction to the concept. There seems to be a pretty good one at Once they have the basic concept, drawing a zoetrope strip will be about the same.

There are a number of options for making zoetropes. I've seen examples made from PVC pipe, or the cardboard tubes used to pour concrete into to make posts. These are usually mounted on some sort of Lazy Susan. The simplest version I found was at It requires a plastic coffee can lid, some black construction paper, some white paper, a pencil, a box knife, scissors, and glue.

I followed some of the instructions from the video, but also incorporated the printable templates from I used their printouts, and the coffee can lid, as a guide to make the outside black portion of the zoetrope, and to get the slots cut in the right places. Then I glued together a couple of their mouse animation strips to place inside. It is important that the animation fit directly under each slot.

Finally, I cut a small X in the middle of the coffee can lid with a razor blade (my substitution for a box knife), and stuck the pencil through. The part of the pencil that holds the eraser catches on the X, and keeps the pencil from falling. I added a bit of tape around the pencil, under the lid, to keep it securely in place.

To use the zoetrope, you hold the pencil between your palms, and spin it. Then, when you look at the pictures through the slots in the construction paper, you should see the mouse dance. Of course, the idea is to draw your own animation on blank paper, and make your own movie. I'm hoping to have each of the children make their own zoetrope - but they might end up just adding their animation to the one I made.

If this turns out to be too complicated, we might try the simpler animation wheel found at Either way, it looks like a lot of animated fun, and will fit nicely with this years "Be Creative" theme for the library reading program.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

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