Optical Illusions - Pre-Cinema - Zoetropes


The oldest zoetrope known..

The term "optical illusions" covers a huge area, including Trompe l'oeuil; Reverse Perspective and Pre-Cinema, which is my particular interest.


The term refers to the creation of moving pictures, of animation, before cinema made it an everyday and perfectly normal thing, rather than a magical experience.


There was a time when every well-to-do Victorian home would have a zoetrope for family amusement.  It looked like a large round biscuit tin on a stand, with a number of viewing slots.    A strip with a series of drawings would be put in, the drum would be spun and the magic of animation begin......


The animations shown here are all taken from zoetrope strips, which were readily available at that time.   Hundreds of different strips were created by the (mainly anonymous) early animation artists – but sadly, relatively few strips have survived.  


The zoetrope is one of several animation toys invented in the19th century, as people experimented with ways to make moving pictures.  It appeared first in England in 1834, then France in 1860 and finally the United States in 1867. 


Originally called "The Daedalum" it was invented by William George Horner in 1834.   It was renamed "The Zoetrope" by French inventor, Pierre Desvignes. 


It works on the principle of “persistence of vision" on the retina.


As an illustrator, I spend a lot of time “recreating” old strips from damaged ones I buy – often there is up to 50 per cent of the original detail missing.   I’ve been lucky, as I’ve had the generous help of people like Iona Opie and the Museo del PreCinema in Padua.


These strips have been turned into animation, showing how they would have looked when the Zoetrope was spun.  This work was done by Dr. Rob Spence


Want to see more Zoetropes? Click here!

John Dupret, Worthing, England.                                   Contact: dupret@btinternet.com