Do It Yourself: How To Make A Zoetrope

Follow these simple instructions, and learn how to design a zoetrope. This early motion picture gadget is lots of fun and easy to make.

Did you ever wonder what the very first motion picture gadgets were like? The very first device was invented in the 1830's, and it was called a "zoetrope". Short movies were brought to life when the devices were rotated. You can make a simple modern version of a zoetrope, and watch your very own homemade movie strips come to life.

For this project you will need poster board, markers or colored pencils, black construction paper, a flat-bottom paper cup, a pony bead, a craft knife, a ruler, a 4 ½ inch diameter circular pattern, clear tape, and a paper clip.

Begin by making the filmstrip holder. Cut a piece of black construction paper so it's approximately 13 1/2 inches long and approximately 3 inches wide. You will need to mark off measurements on the edge of the paper using a pencil and a ruler. Measure over one inch from the side edge of the paper, and make your first mark. The next mark should be 15/16 of an inch away from the first one. Make the next mark one inch over from the previous one, and make another mark 15/16 of an inch over from the one prior to that. Keep the ruler in place as you measure and mark the paper. When you are finished you should have a pattern of two small marks 15/16 of an inch apart, a one inch space, and another set of marks 15/16 of an inch apart. Continue this pattern all the way across the edge of the paper.

Next you will need to cut slits in the paper between the marks that measure 15/16 of an inch apart. Before beginning, place something behind the paper to protect your work surface. Use a craft knife and a ruler to make the edges as straight as possible. Make each slit no more than one inch in length, and make sure each one measures 15/16 of an inch in width. Fold the slits inward to create paper flaps.

Now you will need to make one triangular shaped notch on the opposite edge of the paper directly across from each slit. The notches should be approximately ¼ inch high at the point. It's a good idea to draw the notches with a pencil and a ruler to make sure they are all the correct size and shape. After completing the notches, you need to join the two ends of the paper strip to form a ring. Make sure the paper flaps you folded are inside the ring, and secure the two ends with clear tape.

Now it's time to make the base for the ring. Trace the 4 ½ inch circular pattern on a piece of poster board. Place the circle in the center of the paper ring, and tape it securely to the flaps.

The next step is to poke a small hole in the center of the bottom of a paper cup with the end of a straightened paper clip. Also, make a hole in the center of the paper ring base. Bend the straightened paper clip to form the shape of a letter "P". Place the pony bead over the hole in the overturned paper cup. Put the straight end of the paperclip through the hole in the bottom of the paper ring, the hole in the bead, and the hole in the cup. The round end of the paper clip should rest inside the base of the paper ring.

Lastly you will need to make a filmstrip for the zoetrope. Cut out a strip of poster board that's approximately 13 inches in length and 1 ½ inches wide. Draw a frame by frame scene such as someone running, jumping, or moving. Don't section off each picture. Just draw the separate movements of a chosen activity. When you are finished, tape the two ends together so the graphics are on the inside of the poster board ring. Drop the filmstrip into the paper ring, and you're ready for action! Spin the ring by hand and look through the slits in the side of the zoetrope. Your drawing will magically come to life!

You will amaze your friends and family with real motion pictures you've designed yourself. Consider making an entire library of homemade filmstrips. Making your own motion pictures is entertaining pastime. You will have the pleasure of making your very own films, and you will gain a greater understanding of how old-time motion picture devices work.

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