Phenakistoscopes:: Paper Wheel Animations

Athletes Boxing - Muybridge, Eadweard, 1830-1904.


Phenakistoscopes are one of the simplest forms of animation… a disk with slits and a series of images in a pie format. Phenakistoscopes have a black backing and are attached to a base so they can freely spin. The animation is viewed in a mirror through the slits in the back. Perhaps it is the simplicity that makes them seem so magical when they are set in motion. 

For several years before having Lily,  I made copper/wood/buffed concrete phenakistoscopes for the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The ferric chloride and cupric nitrate were just too toxic to continue while pregnant or with little ones around, but it sure was a fun project. 

Awards for the Ottawa International Animation Festival by Elly MacKay

For some history on phenakistoscopes and to see other interesting paper objects visit Laura Hayes and John Howard Wileman’s Exhibit of Optical Toys here. 


I’ve made these simple ones with kids. To make your own you can use one of the templates from a free animation software site (I haven’t checked to see if it is safe but I haven’t encountered problems myself):  

Mount the sheet on black paper and cut it out. Draw slightly different images in each of the pie sections. Simple shapes getting bigger or changing colour work well. Pin a tack through the middle and into the eraser end of a pencil. Voila! Spin it infront of a mirror test it out. (10+)


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