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How to Create a Phenakistoscope

The phenakistoscope is a predecessor of the flip book, but don’t worry: it’s easier to make than pronounce.


  • Step 1: Sketch a plan of your animation Plan out your animation with sketches. There should be 8 to 12 steps, each representing a frame.
  • TIP: The best animations for a phenakistoscope are cyclical, like a horse galloping or a child jumping rope.
  • Step 2: Draw a circle Anchor your compass point in the center of the stiff paper and draw a circle that just touches the edges. Leave a small mark where the compass is anchored.
  • TIP: If you’re using a manila folder, cut it along the crease and use half of it as the stiff paper.
  • Step 3: Bisect the circle Use the ruler to draw a faint line that bisects the circle.
  • Step 4: Divide the circle into pieces Use the protractor to divide the circle into equally-sized 'wedges,' with each wedge representing a frame in your animation.
  • TIP: To divide the circle into eight wedges, each piece should be 45 degrees. For 9 wedges, 40 degrees; 10 wedges, 36 degrees; 11 wedges, 33 degrees; and 12 wedges, 30 degrees.
  • Step 5: Cut out the circle Cut out the whole circle.
  • Step 6: Cut slots Cut small rectangular slots about 1/8th inch wide by 1 inch long along the separating lines of each wedge. Start at the very outside of the circle and cut inward.
  • Step 7: Make a small hole Poke a small hole through the center of the wheel, or slightly widen the one that is already there.
  • Step 8: Repeat on drawing paper Repeat Steps 2 through 5 on the drawing paper, but make this circle 2 inches smaller in diameter.
  • Step 9: Draw your animation On the drawing paper circle, create your animation step-by-step, clockwise around the circle. This is your animation wheel.
  • Step 10: Align and cement the animation wheel With a small dabs of rubber cement on the back, align the animation wheel so that it is centered on the thick paper wheel. Allow 10 minutes for the rubber cement to dry.
  • TIP: The smaller wheel should come about to the slots you cut in Step 7.
  • Step 11: Poke the thumbtack Poke the thumbtack through the animation wheel and the hole you created in the heavy paper…
  • Step 12: Push the thumbtack into the eraser Push the thumbtack into the side of the pencil eraser. It should be in firmly enough to stick, but still loose enough for you to be able to spin the wheel freely.
  • Step 13: Face the mirror Face the mirror, then hold your phenakistoscope up with the animated side pointed away from you.
  • Step 14: Spin the phenakistoscope Gently spin the phenakistoscope while looking through the slits. The animation will appear in the mirror.
  • FACT: The phenakistoscope was invented in 1832 by the Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau.

You Will Need

  • A piece of stiff paper 8-12" on a side
  • such as a manila folder
  • Drawing paper
  • A drawing compass
  • A protractor
  • A pencil
  • A thumbtack
  • A ruler
  • Scissors
  • Rubber cement
  • A wall mirror

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