Saturday, November 13, 2010

Toys of the Belle Époque: The Zoetrope

Milton Bradley & Co., 1870
Victoria & Albert Museum
Originally invented in 1834 by W.G. Horner, the zoetrope was popularized in the United States when it was patented by Milton Bradley in 1867. A zoetrope is an optical toy which consists of a hollow drum on a base. The drum features several slits along its perimeter which allow for glimpses inside the drum as it spins on its base. Inside, strips of paper are inserted. On the paper, a series of images are drawn or printed—one image for every slit in the side of the drum.

The images in the series only slightly differ from one another to give the illusion of motion as the drum is spinning. This type of animation relies on the same optical principles as flipbook animation. Images when seen in rapid succession are registered in the eye as a single image which is moving. After all, that’s the core of cinema.

In 1877, Emile Reynaund patented the Praxinoscope which worked in much the same way as a zoetrope except that the images were viewed by looking in a mirror. The addition of the mirror made the animation appear to be smoother.

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