A zoetrope is a device that produces an illusion of action from a rapid succession of static pictures.

It consists of a cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides. Beneath the slits on the inner surface of the cylinder is a band which has either individual frames from a video/film or images from a set of sequenced drawings or photographs. As the cylinder spins the user looks through the slits at the pictures on the opposite side of the cylinder's interior. The scanning of the slits keeps the pictures from simply blurring together so that the user sees a rapid succession of images producing the illusion of motion, the equivalent of a motion picture. Cylindrical zoetropes have the property of causing the images to appear thinner than their actual sizes when viewed in motion through the slits.


The earliest elementary zoetrope was created in China around 180 AD by the prolific inventor Ting Huan (丁緩). Driven by convection Ting Huan's device hung over a lamp. The rising air turned vanes at the top from which were hung translucent paper or mica panels. Pictures painted on the panels would appear to move if the device is spun at the right speed. The first European zoetrope was invented independently in 1834 by William Horner who called it a "daedalum" or "daedatelum". Horner based his device on the Phenakistiscope built in 1831 by Joseph Plateau. A device similar to Horners' was described by John Bate in The Mysteries of Nature and Art in 1634.

Modern times

William F Lincoln promoted Horner's device in the United States as a "zoetrope".

The praxinoscope was an improvement on the zoetrope that became popular toward the end of the nineteenth century.

The earliest projected moving images were displayed by using a magic lantern zoetrope. This crude projection of moving images occurred as early as the 1860s. A magic lantern praxinoscope was demonstrated in the 1880s.

Zoetrope development continues into the twenty-first century, primarily with the "Linear zoetrope." A linear zoetrope consists of an opaque linear screen with thin vertical slits in it. Behind each slit is an image, often illuminated. One views the motion-picture by moving past the display.

Linear zoetropes have several differences compared to cylindrical zoetropes that derive from their different geometries. They can have arbitrarily long animations. They also cause images to appear wider than their actual sizes when viewed in motion through the slits.

In September 1980, independent film-maker Bill Brand installed a type of linear zoetrope he called the "Masstransiscope" in an unused subway platform in Brooklyn, New York. It consisted of a linear wall with 228 slits in the face. Behind each slit was a hand-painted panel. Riders in subways moving past the display saw a motion-picture within.

Joshua Spodek, as an astrophysics graduate student, conceived of and led the development of a class of linear zoetropes that saw the first commercial success of a zoetrope in over a century. A display of his design debuted in September 2001 in a tunnel of the Atlanta subway system and showed an advertisement to riders moving past. That display is internally lit and nearly 300 meters long. Its motion-picture was about twenty seconds long.

His design soon appeared in subway systems elsewhere in North America, Asia, and Europe. Joshua has also participated in a renaissance in zoetrope related art and other noncommercial expression.

In April 2006, the Washington Metro installed advertising using the zoetrope system between the Metro Center and Gallery Place subway stations. A similar advertisement is installed on the PATH train in New Jersey, between the World Trade Center and Exchange Place stations.

The term zoetrope is from the Greek words zoe, "life" and trope, "turn". It may be taken to mean "wheel of life" or "living wheel."

Zoetrope is a theatrical production created by Kinematic Theatre, utilising aerial artists. Debuted at the Rose Theatre, Rose Bruford College. Score composed by Simon Slater, Lighting Designed/Co-Directed by Karl Lawton, Directed and Designed by Andy Sinclair-Harris.

The Ghibli Museum hosts a zoetrope using 3D figures on a rotating disk. Rather than slits or mirrors, a strobing LED is used. The animation on this zoetrope is inspired by My Neighbour Totoro.

Pixar created a zoetrope inspired by Ghibli's for its 20th anniversary celebration at the Museum of Modern Art, featuring characters from Toy Story. The exhibit was on display at Disney's California Adventure, sister park to Disneyland, and is currently (April-September 2008) shown at the Seoul Arts Center in Seoul, South Korea.

In 2007 an image of a zoetrope, where a futuristic city with flying cars was viewed through the shape of a number two, was unveiled as one of BBC Two's new idents.


Culver City, California, current home of Sony Studios (originally MGM)has several zoetropes placed throughout the main street area.

See also

External links

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