This Handmade 3D Zoetrope Is a Fascinating IRL Animation Oddity

Before there was video, animation (i.e. moving images or at least the illusion of moving images) was possible, thanks to devices called zoetropes. This video of a LEGO  Star Wars zoetrope explains the concept pretty well: a zoetrope is a mechanical device featuring a wheel that rotates a series of images (or in this case, LEGO minifigs) that appear to be moving when viewed through vertical slits. It’s like video because you see one frame at a time, and each subsequent frame features a slight change from the previous one, the resulting effect being animation.

Now it turns out that 3D zoetropes are a thing, meaning that instead of looking through a slit and seeing a flat animation, these ones have depth, almost like some bizarre form of analogue virtual reality.  Kevin Holmes of  4-Mation made the “fish eating fish” and “jumping frogs” 3D zoetropes above and below, and they’re both stunning. Once they get spinning at precisely the right speed, what you get is an IRL GIF of some savage sea creatures endlessly munching on each other.

The good news is that folks with access to a 3D printer will soon be able to make one of these devices for themselves, assuming that the Kickstarter campaign that launches in December is successful. Holmes explains the process:

“It’s powered by 24 3Watt RGB LED strobes, precision timed by a microcontroller linked to an encoder motor. RPM(Strobe-rate), brightness, colour are all controlled from a phone app. […] Assemble the kit in about 1/2 hour then download and print one of our free animations – or design your own. Animations can be swapped in a minute.”

Learn more about these fascinating zoetropes here, and let us know in the comments below what other animations it would be neat to see in this form.

Featured image: Kevin Holmes

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