Zoetrope Motion Device


Originally called the "Wheel of the Devil," the zoetrope is a moving image machine that was invented in the 1830s. In the 1860s, it was manufactured and marketed to the public. It was then that it was given the name zoetrope, from the Greek zoa (living things) and trope (turning). Zoetropes were extremely popular forms of entertainment for both children and adults in the Victorian era.

A zoetrope is a cylinder with vertical slits cut into the sides. A band of pictures fits inside. As the cylinder is spun, the images appear to move when viewed through the slits. Like the thaumatrope and the flipbook, the zoetrope also works on the principle of persistence of vision. Click here to see a zoetrope.

The band of pictures that fits inside the cylinder is called a zoetrope strip. It consists of a series of images, each of which is slightly different from the one before it. Click here to see a few very simple (but effective) examples.


For Zoetrope:

  • Heavy stock paper or cardboard, OR cylindrical ice cream boxes, emptied and cleaned (Baskin Robbins is a good source for for used boxes)
  • Record turntable or "lazy susans" (base that zoetrope spins on)
  • Good quality glue (such as hot glue)
  • Black matte spray or tempera paint
  • Ruler
  • X-acto knife
  • For Zoetrope strips:

  • Photocopies of zoetrope strip worksheet for each student
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils
  • Scissors and tape
  • Preparation:

    The teacher should make 1 zoetrope and several strips to model project for class. Here's how to make the zoetrope (zoetropes can also be purchased if preferred):

    1. If you are using an empty ice cream container, go to step 2. If you are using cardboard, determine what the size of your zoetrope will be. It can be any size. Cut the cardboard to size. The length will equal the circumference of the zoetrope. We recommend a length of X, and Also, cut a round base for your zoetrope (diameter of base will be half of circumference).
    2. Using a ruler, measure and mark where the slits will be. Slits will be placed in the top half of the cardboard; zoetrope strip should be able to sit below slits without obscuring them. Each vertical slit should be about 2" long, and about 1/8" wide. Slits should be spaced 1 and 1/2" apart. (Note: These placements and measurements are forgiving -- they do not have to be exact.)
    3. Follow your markings, and use the x-acto knife to cut the slits out.
    4. Paint the inside and outside of the cardboard with black paint. Let dry.
    5. Attach zoetrope form to base. If you are using a lazy susan, you will glue it. If you are using a record turntable, you may want to use heavy tape or something less permanent.

    The Activity:

    To be done as a class: Begin by photocopying and cutting out the Flipbook Forms used in Activity 2 (you may re-use the same forms if you have not thrown them away). Put the images in order again -- but, instead of stacking the images on top of one another, lay them out horizontally, one after the other. Point out that, like the flipbooks, each pictures is different. If we lay them out in this fashion, we can make another kind of motion device called a zoetrope.

    Now show the students some of the zoetrope strips that you have made, pointing out that each image is a little different from the one before it. Put it in the zoetrope you have made and spin it. (Position the zoetrope near a good light source for best results.)

    Make one or two zoetrope strips as a class. Ask different students to draw the images. Then give each of the students one of the zoetrope strip worksheets. Lead the class through the exercise again. Soon they will be experts!

    Important Note: Consider the grade level of your students and the amount of time you can devote to this project; the zoetropes may be made in-class by the students, or they can be made ahead of time by the teacher. Students: If the students make the zoetropes, you might consider breaking the class into five or six groups, each of which will make one zoetrope to share amongst the group. You will probably want to cut the slits out with the x-acto knife, but the students can do everything else. Teacher: If you decide to make the zoetropes yourself, plan to make just two or three for the entire class to share.


    Show the class the piece of film included with this packet. It is just like the zoetropes they made, but has photographs instead of drawings. It works the same way! This is how a movie is made. (It is okay to pass the film around; a few fingerprints won't hurt it.)

     Robert Price - 66 First Place #3 - Brooklyn, NY 11231 - 718.855.8548
    fax: 718.855.8574 - www.eggplant.org - robert@eggplant.org


    art by ashley james