The Zoetrope Becomes a Movie Podcast

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Zoetrope in motion

Originally uploaded by tempo.

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On a recommendation from Michael Geohegan I watched the Francis Ford Coppola movie the Conversation. Great movie.

Frequent listeners of this podcast know I enjoy reading the credits. Well the credits for the Conversation include the name of Coppola’s production company Zoetrope. What a beautiful word. And a great name for a movie company.

A Zoetrope is a primitive movie toy that spins to animate a series of images. It is hard to describe so I recommend checking out the photos. But basically it is a cylinder with narrow, evenly spaced vertical slits. A series of images, very often images of a horse galloping, appears on the inside of the cylinder. When the viewer spins the cylinder and looks through the slots they see the images in rapid succession. This spinning animates the images.

The zoetrope, originally called the “daedalum” or “daedatelum,” was invented in the first half of 19th century by George Horner. But it was promoted in the US by William F. Lincoln as a “zoetrope.” The first half of the 19th century saw a great many inventions designed to create moving images including the thaumatrope, the zoetrope, praxinoscope, the phenakistoscope and flip books. Thomas Edison studied many of these devices while developing kinetoscope, the precursor to modern movies.

Interestingly, Wikipedia, mentions Edison created the kinetoscope so that people would listen to phonographs. History sure is interesting. America’s most prolific inventor develops movies as an aside just so people will listen to more audio recordings.

The name zoetrope was created by combining two greek words- “zoe” and “trope.” Zoe means life and trope means turn or wheel. So the zoetrope is the wheel of life. Or maybe a turning wheel that gives life to images. Zoe is also the root of the word zoo.

If you want to make you own persistence of vision project there are a couple sites that will help you make you own zoetrope. HowToons.org, an educational site with great cartoons describing how to create various toys that demonstrate interesting scientific properties. Brightbytes.com has a great collection of persistence of vision toys including- the thaumatrope, the zoetrope, praxinoscope, the phenakistoscope and flip books.


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