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. 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 praxinoscope was an improvement on the zoetrope that became popular toward the end of the 19th century. 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. Via Zoetrope

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