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How to make a phonotrope video with a camera and turntable

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“The phonotrope is a modern version of a zoetrope or phenakistoscope toy that you may have seen or played with,” artist Tess Martin explains in this behind-the-scenes video about how-to make a phonotrope.

“While you spin the disc and look at the animation directly, the animation appears blurry. However, when you look at the animation through the slits, the animation comes alive. This effect occurs because our eye needs a little break in between each image for us to register it.

“So, the phonotrope is essentially the same as these traditional devices, except the slits are replaced with the frame rate of the video camera that is filming the disc.”

planning drawings
Martin demonstrates the technology, the math, and her creation process, including how to synchronize between the frame rate, disk rotation speed, and the number of drawings on the disk to produce an animation, as well as how to create the discs on the computer using Photoshop and AfterEffects software.

Note: Her narration volume varies; closed captioning may be required for some sections of the tutorial.

spacing the drawings around the disk

“You can also film your phonotrope with a phone camera, not just a DSLR, as I did for an interactive installation project. However, it requires a bit more effort because you usually need to download a third-party app to your phone to control the framerate and shutter speed. Nonetheless, this method provides a great way to experience the phonotrope. You can even print your animation onto a playable record for added novelty.”

Her Pirates Press-printed Orbit flexi-disc phonotrope is set to a soundtrack composed by Jason Staczek.

Animator Jim Le Fevre coined the term phonotrope. Some history about its 1830s-era predecessor from Wikipedia:

“The phenakistiscope (also known by the spellings phΓ©nakisticope or phenakistoscope) was the first widespread animation device that created a fluent illusion of motion. Dubbed Fantascope and Stroboscopische Scheiben (‘stroboscopic discs’) by its inventors, it has been known under many other names until the French product name PhΓ©nakisticope became common (with alternative spellings). The phenakistiscope is regarded as one of the first forms of moving media entertainment that paved the way for the future motion picture and film industry. Similar to a GIF animation, it can only show a short continuous loop.”

finished disks
Find Tess Martin on Instagram and at

Related exploration from Oxford’s History of Science Museum: Fancy names and fun toys.

Watch these zoetrope-related videos next:
β€’Β The praxinoscope
β€’Β 3D-Printed β€œBlooming” Fibonacci Zoetrope Sculptures
β€’Β Freequences, a β€˜caketrope’ by Alexandre Dubosc
β€’ Embroidered phenakistoscope animations by Elliot Schultz
β€’Β 4-Mation 3D Zoetropes: Fish Eating Fish and Jumping Frogs

And as always:Β Pixar’s Zoetrope and how animation works.

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