A zoetrope is a device that produces the illusion of motion from a rapid succession of static pictures. The term zoetrope is from the Greek words ζωή (zoē), meaning "alive, active", and τροπή (tropē), meaning "turn", with "zoetrope" taken to mean "active turn" or "wheel of life".
The zoetrope consists of a cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides. On the inner surface of the cylinder is a band with images from a set of sequenced pictures. As the cylinder spins, the user looks through the slits at the pictures across. The scanning of the slits keeps the pictures from simply blurring together, and the user sees a rapid succession of images, producing the illusion of motion.
The earliest known zoetrope was created in China around 180 AD by the inventor Ting Huan (丁緩). Ting Huan's device, driven by convection, hung over a lamp and was called chao hua chich kuan (the pipe which makes fantasies appear). The rising air turned vanes at the top, from which translucent paper or mica panels hung. When the device was spun at the right speed, pictures painted on the panels would appear to move.
The modern zoetrope was invented in 1833 by British mathematician William George Horner. He called it the "daedalum", most likely as a reference to the Greek myth of Daedalus, though it was popularly referred to as "the wheel of the devil". The daedalum failed to become popular until the 1860s, when it was patented by both English and American makers, including Milton Bradley. The American developer William F. Lincoln named his toy the "zoetrope", meaning "wheel of life". Almost simultaneously, similar inventions were made independently in Belgium by Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau (the phenakistoscope) and in Austria by Simon von Stampfer (the stroboscope).
The zoetrope worked on the same principles as the phenakistoscope, but the pictures were drawn on a strip which could be set around the bottom third of a metal drum, with the slits now cut in the upper section of the drum.[clarification needed] The drum was mounted on a spindle and spun; viewers looking through the slits would see the cartoon strip form a moving image. The faster the drum was spun, the smoother the animation appeared.
The earliest projected moving images were displayed using a magic lantern zoetrope. This crude projection of moving images occurred as early as the 1860s. A magic lantern praxinoscope was later demonstrated in the 1880s.
Zoetrope development continues into the 21st 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. A motion picture is seen by moving past the display.
Linear zoetropes have several differences compared to cylindrical zoetropes due to their different geometries. Linear zoetropes can have arbitrarily long animations and can cause images to appear wider than their actual sizes.
In September 1980, independent film-maker Bill Brand installed a type of linear zoetrope he called the "Masstransiscope" in an unused subway platform at the former Myrtle Avenue station on the New York City Subway. It consisted of a wall with 228 slits; behind each slit was a hand-painted panel, and riders in subways moving past the display saw a motion picture. After falling into a state of disrepair, the "Masstransiscope" was restored in late 2008. Since then, a variety of artists and advertisers have begun to use subway tunnel walls to produce a zoetrope effect when viewed from moving trains.
Joshua Spodek, as an astrophysics graduate student, conceived of and led the development of a class of linear zoetropes that saw the zoetrope's first commercial success in over a century. A display of his design debuted in September 2001 in an Atlanta subway system tunnel and showed an advertisement to riders moving past. The display is internally lit and nearly 980 feet (300 m) long, with an animation lasting around 20 seconds. His design soon appeared, both commercially and artistically, in subway systems around North America, Asia, and Europe.
In April 2006, the Washington Metro installed advertisement zoetropes between the Metro Center and Gallery Place subway stations. A similar advertisement was installed on the PATH train in New Jersey, between the World Trade Center and Exchange Place stations.
At around the same time, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system installed a zoetrope-type advertisement between the Embarcadero and Montgomery stations which could be viewed by commuters traveling in either direction. The BART ads are still visible, though they are changed infrequently: a particular ad may remain up for several months before being replaced.
New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority hosted two digital linear zoetropes through its Arts for Transit program. One, "Bryant Park in Motion", was installed in 2010 at the Bryant Park subway station, and was created by Spodek and students at New York University's Tisch School of Arts' Interactive Telecommunications Program. The other, "Union Square in Motion", was installed in 2011 by Spodek and students and alumni from Parsons the New School for Design's Art, Media, and Technology program in the Union Square station.
The Metro in Kyiv (Kiev) Ukraine also featured an advertisement about 2008 for Life mobile telephone carrier in one of its subway tunnels that featured the zoetrope effect. It was quickly taken down.
In 2002, Peter Hudson and the crew of Hudzo Design, LLC created "Sisyphish", a large scale, 3D zoetrope that uses a strobe light to animate human figures swimming on a large rotating disk. This stroboscopic human powered zoetrope was originally unveiled at the arts and culture event, Burning Man, in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Peter created four more large scale stroboscopic zoetropes from 2004 to 2011: "Deeper" (2004), "Homouroboros" (2007), "Tantalus" (2008), and "Charon" (2011). This latest zoetrope is built to resemble and rotate in the same kinetic fashion as a ferris wheel. The Charon zoetrope stands at 32 feet high, weighs 8 tons and features twenty rowing skeleton figures representing the mythological character, Charon, who carries souls of the newly deceased across the river Styx. Peter Hudson's zoetropes are exhibited at various festivals and special events internationally throughout the year.
In 2007, an image of a zoetrope was unveiled as one of BBC Two's new idents: a futuristic city with flying cars seen through the shape of the number two.
In November 2009, Timothy Adam Abad, and his family created the "Weebatron", the first center perspective 3D zoetrope.
In 2009 the E4 drama program Skins released silent preview clips of series four to coincide with their mash-up competition. One of the clips featured the character Emily Fitch looking into a zoetrope.
A zoetrope was used in the filming the music video for "My Last Serenade" by Killswitch Engage. It features a woman looking through the slits on a zoetrope while it moves; as she looks closer, the camera moves through the slits into the zoetrope, where the band is playing the song.
The Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, Japan hosts a zoetrope using 3D figures on a rotating disk and a strobing LED instead of slits. The animation on this zoetrope is inspired by the animated movie My Neighbour Totoro. Pixar created a 3D zoetrope inspired by Ghibli's for its touring exhibition, which first showed at the Museum of Modern Art and features characters from Toy Story. Two more 3D zoetropes have been created by Pixar, both featuring 360-degree viewing. One is installed at Disney California Adventure Park, sister park to Disneyland and the other is installed at Hong Kong Disneyland. The original Toy Story zoetrope still travels worldwide and has been shown in: London, England; Edinburgh, Scotland; Melbourne, Australia; Seoul, South Korea; Helsinki, Finland; Monterrey, Mexico; Taipei, Taiwan; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Singapore; Shanghai, China. It is currently on display at the exhibition for the Pixar's 25th anniversary at Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea in Milan, Italy.
Blue Man Group uses a zoetrope at their shows in Las Vegas and the Sharp Aquos Theater in Universal Studios (in Orlando, Florida).
In 2008, Artem Limited, a UK visual effects house, built a 10-meter wide, 10-metric ton zoetrope for Sony, called the BRAVIA-drome, to promote Sony's motion interpolation technology. It features 64 images of the Brazilian footballer Kaká. This has been declared the largest zoetrope in the world by Guinness World Records.
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