Make Your Own Zoetrope at Home

Los Angeles Sunday Examiner
Tuesday, September 15, 2015 - 16:30

With a choice of delightful images like “the jumping monkey” and “the ball tosser,” who wouldn’t want to make their own moving picture machine? At the turn of the last century, subscribers to the Los Angeles Sunday Examiner had the opportunity to make their own zoetrope, or moving picture machine, by cutting out and assembling the newspaper’s inserted supplement, seen below.

Los Angeles Sunday Examiner

Los Angeles Sunday Examiner



The supplement contains directions for making a zoetrope, pronounced ZOH-UH-TROHP, using the images printed on the cardboard. A pre-cinema device, the zoetrope was invented in 1834 by British mathematician William George Horner as an early form of motion image viewing. The basis of the zoetrope is its cylindrical drum, cut with a series of slits at regularly spaced intervals around the rim of the drum, and featuring a strip with a sequential drawing placed inside. When the drum is spun quickly it gives the illusion of movement, enabling the viewer to see a succession of images placed opposite the slits. It essentially works like a flip book: if several successive images are moved through a single spot quickly, it creates the illusion of a single animated image. The phenomenon that is responsible for the zoetrope’s magic is called “persistence of vision.” The human eye retains an image for a fraction of a second, and if a new image appears during that time, the two images are merged, resulting in a continuous sequence.

Horse Tricks

Animated Ball

The John B. Goodman papers in Special Collections at the Margaret Herrick Library contain the personal and professional papers of the American art director, active in film from the 1920s through the 1960s. Goodman received four Oscar nominations for Art Direction and won an Academy Award for Color Art Direction for Phantom of the Opera (1943). Goodman collected six different Los Angeles Sunday Examiner color supplements featuring the zoetrope images, all in pristine condition. Another one in the collection, below, depicts a man on a horse jumping a fence, and a man with a shotgun, who is duck hunting while jumping over a pig.

Los Angeles Sunday Examiner

The supplements bear a 1905 copyright by the A.B. Woodward Company in New York. The company principal, Arthur B. Woodward, was a stationer who ran companies involved with printing and advertising. In addition to this moving picture machine, Woodward peddled novelties such as a cardboard snap-shot camera. This 1907 novelty featured six dry plates that could be developed by running cold water over the surface while rubbing with a finger until the picture appeared.