Zoetrope Development – the Phonotrope

The Phonotrope

(formerly the Phonographantasmascope)

For a few years I have been playing around with a nice little technique using a record player and a camera to create a different kind of Zoetrope.

This page is a little out of date and has been slightly superceded by my Phonotropia blog which has lots of up to date work by a lot of people since the technique exploded courtesy of people like Sculpture, Eric Dyer and myself.


A lot of the stuff below is outdated and links are dead but I feel it might be a useful resource to leave up.

Go visit the blogspot above and enjoy!


It is one of those things that is more pleasurable watching in real-life however I have a few films of a couple of events that I have shown the Phonographantasmascope in which I will try and upload below.


I’m acutely aware that there really hasn’t been any form of update here for a while and this is partially because this page is becoming rather cumbersome. I really need to rethink it.

HOWEVER!… Although there’s not been any developments on my part I am updating the Background Research and Further Reading bit with some more work from the outside word (Retchy in particular) and also there’s the most awesome site of a PhD researcher Meredith Abak (I think is her name) and I hope she doens’t mind me putting a link to her site here… Perception and Playthings

UPDATE – SEPTEMBER 2010 (may 2010)

Having given up on any progress by myself, Malcolm Goldie has edited some of the footage from our night at the last ever Heavy Pencil at the ICA in May.

Although the evening went well, it really was a testing ground for some of Malcolm and I’s thoughts and it threw up promise and mistakes in equal measure.

Malcolm has re-cut a track for this edit and in typical inspired fashion used only (mostly) a box of old 45s he got handed from a retiring wedding DJ for the samples.

There will be some more developments at some stage but only when I can get some time in between functional and relatively uninspiring commercial work and over-ambitious technical experiments of another more exciting kind altogether.


Finally as promised here is the entire talk I did at the Flatpack Festival in March 2009


Over the last few months, and around the more fee-paying jobs I’ve been doing, a few bigger projects have started to grow. I can’t talk too much about them but one invloves a really exciting commission through the sculptor/artist Stephen Skrynka. More news to come.



Victoria and Albert Museum – Friday Late Animate

In 2007 Nexus Productions were invited to take over the V&A for an evening showing off different and exciting sides to animation. I took the opportunity to show off the Phonographantasmascope in its virginal glory.


Interesting 2008

Organised by Russell Davies, this is simply one of the most benevolently beautiful days I’ve been to. Ultimately it’s about 32 speakers doing lectures of between 5 and 20 minutes in length about almost any subject you can think of. That day we saw lectures on Lego, Horses, Geology, Music and Coins to name but a few.

The guys at Imagination filmed it and it’s hosted by the Guardian which you can see here.

Flatpack Festival 2009

Run by Ian Francis and Pip McKnight, a brilliant festival in its early years which I would highly recommend going to when it’s on next. This is actually the last few minutes of the talk, as before, just through the camera so it might not be that interesting to watch but might be interesting to listen to at some points. I might put the whole talk up on line if anyone wants to see it?

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Blu-Tak tests

Some recent tests with blu-tak playing around with more tactile and haptic forms and discovering more about the spatial qualities and what your eye tunes into at different times. I find the interesting parts of this research are the points where you follow the blu-tak from side to side and not the foreground framing that works on the other loops.

– * –

Background Research and Further Reading

The science behind the process of animation existed in the early half of the19th century as people explored the idea of persistence of vision, a term coined by the Belgian physicist and artist Joseph Plateau which describes the human’s ability to perceive a succession of single images as a single moving image. During the 1800s and through on to today many techniques have been developed using very long names such as the “Thaumatrope” (meaning “turning marvel”) “Phenakistiscope” (“deceptive view”) the “Praxinoscope” (“action viewer”) and the “Zoopraxiscope” (not too sure exactly but I don’t think it is anything to do with elephants and tigers) through to the live-action film projector which harnesses the same idea.

In this tradition I am appropriating the common record player and, using the fact that it revolves at 45 revolutions per minute and that a video camera takes pictures at 25 frames per second, will be showing some examples of some simple moving images and explaining the process. I came to the idea after trying to create ‘live’ animation for the straight-8 super-8 film competition last year based around the super-8 camera taking pictures at 18 frames per second, and have been playing around with it ever since. There have been some recent explorations, notably from Studio Ghibli in the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka and also from Pixar for their animation exhibition which both use a stroboscope to create ‘frames’ out of a 3-dimensional Zoetrope. Below are some links to many more experiments and further reading that one can follow.*

There are many other people playing around with this technique in its different forms….

UPDATE – 11 MArch 2011

Retchy’s new experiments combining his Projection Mapping and the Zoetrope stuff he’s been doing…

UPDATE – 11 October 2010

Graeme Hawkins, a.k.a. Retchy, has pushed his Phonotrope experiments further with a bead test. Awesome and beautiful.

UPDATE – 7th April

Ernest Zacharevic has just sent me a link to an awesome film/zoetrope he’s just done

Staying Alive from Ernest Zacharevic on Vimeo.

check it out!!

Mr Graeme Hawkins

I think he’s currently up in Glasgow, his projection experiments are absolutely beautiful. He’s taking the record player thing into some really nice places with Particles (and while you’re there browse through his other stuff, some lovely lovely things there like his Robert Breer Stylee piece). Below is his hand drawn mapping tests as I think he’s probably not ready to show his zoetrope things yet…


Tight design and really beautiful style, Sculpture are Dan Hayhurst and Reuben Sutherland. Here are some of their beautiful deck tests (again have a sift through their films)

David Wilson

When I first saw this I was terrified as it was the first higher profile use of this but it’s done really nicely and again in a really different way too. The making of is great if you want a run down on his approach and he sounds like a really great guy too.

Mark Simon Hewis

Mark’s film ‘The Life Size Zoetrope’ is simply the epitome of effort story telling and style using a zoetrope. It’s possibly better just to watch it and see what he’s done with it as it’s quite hard to explain the impressive nature of almost every aspect of it.


Modern Experiments in 3-Dimensional Zoetropes using Stroboscopes

The above examples are all exploring the ability of the camera to create the animation on the zoetropes. The following examples mostly use stroboscopes, i.e. a constant set of flashing lights, sometimes at very high speeds, to create the ‘frames’ that are needed to cerate the feeling of movement.

Studio Ghibli/Pixar


The Studio Ghibli Zoetrope in in the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo if you’re lucky enough to ever go (the information about the Zoetrope is about halfway down the page), was the first of its kind. I’m not sure when it was built but by all accounts it is stunning, unfortunately I cannot find any footage of this as yet.

In 2005-ish Pixar created their own version which toured many science museums and galleries around the world and is impressive aswell. This footage is only three seconds long but the better of a poor bunch of footage showing Pixar’s zoetrope which was ‘inspired’ by the Studio Ghibli one.

Peter Hudson

I had previously put a link to Peter’s work from a very old site of his but he kindly sent me a link to his newer one (which he also says needs updating) here.

For the last few years he has been creating ever more grander life sized zoetropes at the Burning Man Festival. What makes his work so important in this field is not just the thought he puts into the loops and the build of the pieces but also how he is bringing it to people.

The Burning Man Festival is all about the spectacle and Peter now regularly dispensies magic like an altruistic crazed animation Santa Claus.

Watch the film of his latest project Tantalus on his site and below are a few of his other works.

Swimmers was Peter’s 2004 piece

Humouroboros was his 2007 piece

Stewart Dickson

Stewart Dickson created a 3-Dimensional Zoetrope in 2000 which received an International Award in Digital Sculpture and has been exhibited around America


Gregory Barsamian

Chicago born artist experimenting in precisely this area with some really really great sculptures, ‘Die Falle’ is just brilliant.

As with these stroboscopic base ones it’s hard to film but here are a couple of his installations

Steve Hollinger

Hollinger’s sculptures experiment with a wide range of interaction and are very interesting in their own right. The link is a 9 minute Quicktime movie of a variety of his works.

Here’s a very staggered ‘making of’ the zoetrope thing he did

and this looks ace! Next project in the offing I think (and if anyone’s stuck finding me a birthday present then here it is)!

Toshio Iwai

Iwai is a Japanese born artist experimenting in interactive media and sound. Having experimented with various 3-Dimensional Zoetropes he went on to contribute to the Studio Ghibli Zoetrope for their museum in Mitaka, Tokyo (see above for more on Ghibli).



Iwai is also a experimental musician and works a lot with interactive toys. His latest project is Electroplankton, a sound and image toy for the Nintendo DS which is excellent.


Tim Anderson has created a rather nice guide to creating a Phonograph Turntable Strobe Zoetrope.


Other Animation things that break out from the norm

A nice use of escalators.

Further Reading about

Experiments in the Moving Image


Stephen Herbert and Mo Heard

Archivist and publicist for many things ‘moving-image’ related but specifically has a fantastic range of books published through his publishing partnership ‘The Projection Box’

Laura Hayes and John Howard Wileman Exhibit of Optical Toys

A collection of pre-20th century optical toys and illusionary devices, donated to NCSSM by Dr. Ralph Wileman.


According to her profile ‘Kinetoscope’ is an Italian woman responsible for archiving some great footage of very early films and documentaries (mostly in Italian however you don’t need to speak the language too see the machines in action) and I thouroughly recommend browsing through her stuff.


Of particular interest is a documentary on animated geometry. (link working – June 15 2009) and a documentary on Eduard Muybridge which is a bit boring at the start but there are some great examples of early animated strips around 4 mins into it .and some other examples of some Zoetrope strips


Boston Cyberarts Festival

If you’re in Boston this looks like an amazing thing which happens every year

Arthur Ganson

An incredible sculptor who plays around with movement, I thoroughly recommend ordering his DVD too.

Paul Spooner/Fourteen Balls

Almost a British Arthur Ganson although very very different in mind and mentality. I heartily recommmend getting the DVD which shows Paul constructing an automaton in a day. Very funny

Tim Hunkin

An enthusiastic experimenter and illustrator with a wonderful museum in Suffolk

Paper Sculptures

*With acknowledgement to Stephen Herbert from ‘the Projection Box’ and also the book ‘Masterpieces of Animation 1833 – 1908’ by David Robinson – Griffithiana 1991 also available through ‘The Projection Box’ please see links below.

** The author is not responsible for the content of any of these websites


  1. davyj

    Hi Jim,

    I find your work with the record players (phonotrpe) fascinating! I was wondering if your work is for sale? Or do you do any custom pieces?


    David Jang

  2. davyj

    Hi Jim,

    I find your work with the record players (phonotrope) fascinating! I was wondering if your work is for sale? Or do you do any custom pieces?


    David Jang

  3. Hey David,

    Thanks for the comment! I haven’t really ever done specific commissions although I certainly have mad a few for some charity auctions.

    For the most basic version of the Phonotrope I’m most certainly willing to sell them (although a fair few of the earliest ones are a little tired right now due to storage issues!) and even make them to commission. They are really beautiful things in them selves although if I were to sell them as a whole piece (and depending on how much budget anyone had) I would prefer that they came with the entire package – i.e. record player camera and screen) which would massively boost up the price, but to be honest the discs them selves, sold on their own, would probably be more than enough!

    The individual discs would come with a presentation cake stand (!?) and look remarkably pretty although I’m finding these cake stands harder and harder to find!!

    Are you interested?!

  4. davyj

    Hi Jim,

    Sorry for the late reply! I was expecting a message to my email account and then thought to check the site again! I’m most interested. I am a bboy (break dancer) and I have recently began djing, and after seeing your work, I thought it would be really interesting to have an animation of a bboy doing bboy moves! I also enjoy your previous work as well. In your last message, you spoke of a camera and screen, for what function would these serve?

    I do like the idea of a presentation cake stand, as I would like to keep these pieces in good condition.

    I was wondering what pricing would like for an older piece, or say a commissioned piece of the bboy work? (or if that’s even possible that is!)

    Cheers and thank you for your time!

    David Jang

  5. bv3

    whaaw, nice Jim!
    i’ve tried it to in art school
    working on a follow up this year


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