Make a zoetrope

A zoetrope is an optical illusion toy and a way of making a short-looped animation. Zoetropes have been around for a long time, and pre-date film animation.

They use a series of sequenced images that form an animation loop, when they spin. The loop is created by matching the first and last image in the series.

To make a zoetrope, a sequence of images is pasted onto the inside of a cardboard cylinder. The cylinder has thin slits along the side. Once the cylinder starts to spin, you look through the slits to see your animation come to life,

Check out this video to see what one looks like

Beta movement

Before you get started it’s worth learning a little bit about beta movement.

This describes the phenomenon whereby our eye and brain interpret a series of static images (when put in sequence) as a moving image. In film and television we call the images ‘frames’.

Most films and television shows have 24 or 25 frames for each second of footage. Beta movement can normally be achieved by using 10 or more images per second. Any fewer and our eye would see them as separate images, not moving ones. 

Make your own

Print the zoetrope template above. Remember to print A3, and print on cardboard if possible. If you can’t use cardboard, print it on paper and paste it onto cardboard.

  1. Cut out the zoetrope frame (bottom of the page) as instructed.

  2. Form a cylinder out of the zoetrope frame and stick it together where it says ‘glue here’

  3. Cut out the base, and punch a hole through the middle circle. This is where your stem will go; it could be a thick strong straw or something similar.

  4. Use the flaps on the base and fold them into three spaces left at the bottom of the zoetrope frame; then fix the base to the zoetrope.

  5. Take your stem and work it through the hole in the base; then fix it to the base. Try and have the stem as straight as possible in relation to the base, which should be as even as possible.

  6. Cut out the animation strip, and place it inside your zoetrope with the images facing inwards.

  7. Look through the slits and start spinning the stem of your zoetrope. Make sure you experiment with different speeds until you see your animation come to life.

Make your own zoetrope strip

Now you’ve practised with a ready-made animation strip, it’s time to make your own. Print the zoetrope animation strips template we’ve provided below.

Remember the first and last frames need to be similar for the animation to keep repeating. For example a walking or running motion can be easy to loop. A ball going into the air and falling back down to where it came from could form an animation loop. A person smiling, then frowning, then returning to a smile can form a loop. It’s up to you!

Next module

From sketch to clay: making your own claymation character

More info