How to Create a Zoetrope

For a fun novelty project, try making a zoetrope at home.

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Up next in Animation Techniques (3 videos)

Aspiring animator? Learn a few fun animation techniques with these videos.

You Will Need

  • A plastic coffee can lid
  • A strip of white paper 20" x 1.5" tall
  • A strip of black paper 20" x 3" tall
  • Glue, rubber cement or tape
  • A craft knife
  • A pencil
  • A ruler

Steps

  1. Step 1

    Plan the animation

    Plan out your animation. Assume there will be about 12 cells, or steps.

  2. The best animations for a zoetrope are cyclical, like a man walking, or a sun rising and setting.

  3. Step 2

    Place the lid flat side down

    Place the can lid flat side down.

  4. Step 3

    Roll white paper into a tube and place into lid

    Gently roll the white paper into a tube and place it into the lid, so that the rim of the lid supports the tube of paper. You will have a drum with an open end and the lid as the bottom.

  5. Step 4

    Mark where the inside edge overlaps the paper

    Use the pencil to lightly mark where the inside edge overlaps the inside of the white paper.

  6. Step 5

    Measure the white paper

    Lay the white paper flat and measure the distance from the inside edge of the sheet to the mark. This will be the longer distance to the mark you made.

  7. Step 6

    Divide by the number of steps in your animation

    Divide the distance by 12 — or the number of steps in your animation — and mark a light line at the bottom edge of the paper to divide each cell.

  8. Step 7

    Sketch out the animation

    Sketch out your animation, beginning at the left cell and moving right along each cell.

  9. Step 8

    Return the paper to the lid

    Gently re-roll the white sheet and place it back into the lid to make sure all of your cells will be shown.

  10. Step 9

    Place black paper flat with white paper on top

    Place the black paper flat with the white paper on top and flush along the long edge. Make sure the light lines you made in Step 6 run along the middle of the black sheet.

  11. Step 10

    Draw a line down the length of the black paper

    Use the edge of the white paper to draw a line down the length of the black paper. It will run down the middle.

  12. Step 11

    Continue the marks you made onto the black sheet

    Continue the marks you made on the white sheet onto the black sheet. They should intersect the long line you made in Step 9.

  13. Step 12

    Move the white sheet

    Move the white sheet to 1/8" inside of the opposite edge of the black sheet.

  14. Step 13

    Extend the lines

    Extend the lines again from the white sheet to the edge of the black sheet. Remove the white sheet.

  15. The sets of small lines you copied on to the black sheet should line up all the way down the black sheet.

  16. Step 14

    Connect the sets of marks

    Use the ruler and pencil to connect the sets of marks you made on the black sheet.

  17. Step 15

    Cut windows

    Using the lines you made in Step 13 as guides, cut windows out of the black sheet with craft knife. The windows should start in the middle, run about 1" down the line and be about 1/8" wide.

  18. Step 16

    Cut an X in the lid’s center

    Carefully find the center of the lid and cut a 3/8"-wide X in the top.

  19. Step 17

    Run a bead of glue on the inside of the lid’s lip

    Run a light bead of glue along the inside edge of the lid's lip.

  20. Step 18

    Roll the black paper and place it in the lid

    Gently roll the black sheet and place it in the lid so that the slits are furthest away from the lid.

  21. Step 19

    Push the black paper against the glue and let dry

    Gently press the black paper out against the lid's lip so that it bonds to the glue on the lid. Set aside to dry.

  22. Step 20

    Poke the pencil down through the X

    Poke the pencil down through the X you had cut so that it sticks out the bottom.

  23. The brass eraser holder should snag on the cut edges of the lid’s X.

  24. Step 21

    Roll the white sheet and place inside the drum

    Gently roll the white sheet and place it inside the drum so the bottom of the animation rests on the lid.

  25. Step 22

    Rotate the drum

    Clasp the pencil between your palms and slowly rotate the drum while looking through windows from the outside in to the opposite side of the drum.

  26. Step 23

    Watch your animation

    Watch your animation in glorious Zoetrope vision.

  27. A convection-powered version of the zoetrope was built around 180 A.D. by the Chinese inventor Ting Huan.

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