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The LEGO Zoetrope

A zoetrope is a pre-film animation toy. The word means “wheel of life”. Think of it as a Victorian-era animated-GIF.

It consists of a series of images inside a cylinder, that, when viewed through the slits in the side of the cylinder, create the illusion of motion. As such it embodies the principle used in all film and animation. The slits prevent the image from simply blurring and act like the shutter on old projectors. This style of zoetrope (in fact called a daedaleum at the time) was invented in 1834 by mathematician William George Horner, though an Iranian bowl, similar to a zoetrope showing a jumping goat, dates back 5000 years!

Features of the LEGO model:

  • It stands 26cm tall, is 22cm wide, and has 946 pieces.
  • It sits on a display stand but can also be held in the hand.
  • Technic gears are used to turn the cylinder by a crank handle.
  • Novel techniques are used to construct a nonagon (nine sided shape), hence ensuring the slits are directly opposite an image on the other side.
  • The image panels can be easily removed to help in developing new animations.

There are at least three reasons why this would be a great LEGO model:

  • It makes for an attractive and entertaining, interactive display model.
  • It’s educational in terms of illustrating the early history of film and the principles that underpin it, and also in demonstrating scientific principles such as “persistence of vision” and the “phi phenomenon”.
  • Whilst a set could contain pieces and instructions for two or three alternative animations, it gives fantastic opportunities for the builder to play with their own experiments in animation.

To see it in action watch the short video!

But to really appreciate the magic you need to build it and hold it in your hand, which means it needs your support!

I hope to be posting updates to explain or improve on aspects of the model, to show new animations I develop and of course in response to questions and suggestions in your comments.

Many thanks for taking a look!

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