On The Phenakistoscope

I came across this tumblr post from stil a few days ago that sent me down a rabbit hole.

Invented in 1832 by Joseph Plateau, the phenakistoscope was an early animation device that used the persistence of vision principle to create an illusion of motion.

Here follows a few links and gifs collected from various posts around the net.

Stand up, ye spellers, now and spell;
spell phenakistoscope and knell:
Or take some simple word as chilly,
Or gauger Or the garden lily…

This from Stephen Herbert:

The phenakistiscope and ‘stroboscopic disc’ of the 1830s were the first instruments to create an illusion of movement based on rapidly changing sequence pictures; the basic technique used subsequently in one form or another by the zoetrope, the Zoopraxiscope, cinematography, television, video, and digital motion pictures. These intriguing spinning-disc toys and the sequence drawings produced for them have not been adequately investigated. 

A variant of it had two discs, one with slits and one with pictures; this was slightly more unwieldy but needed no mirror. Unlike the zoetrope and its successors, the phenakistoscope could only practically be used by one person at a time.  – (Juxtapoz)

Faulty animation from an 1833 McLean’s Optical Illusions, or, Magic Panorama disc (slits appear still when viewed through a phénakisticope) – wiki

On 10 December 1830 Michael Faraday presented a paper at the Royal Institution of Great Britain called On a Peculiar Class of Optical Deceptions about the optical illusions that could be found in rotating wheels. He referred to Roget’s paper and described his associated new findings. Much was similar to what Plateau had published and Faraday acknowledged this publicly but also wrote to Plateau personally and sent him his paper. Some of Faraday’s experiments were new to Plateau and especially the one with a fixed image produced by a turning wheel in front of the mirror inspired Plateau with the idea for new illusions. In July 1832 Plateau sent a letter to Faraday and added an experimental disc with some “anamorphoses” that produced a “completely immobile image of a little perfectly regular horse” when rotated in front of a mirror. After several attempts and many difficulties he constructed a working model of the phénakisticope in November or December 1832. Plateau published his invention in a 21 January 1833 letter to Correspondance Mathématique et PhysiqueHe believed that if the manner of producing the illusions could be somehow modified, they could be put to other uses, “for example, in phantasmagoria“. – wiki

Phenakistoscope, Great Britain, 1833 Courtesy of the Richard Balzer Collection

The fame of the phenakistoscope lasted only two years, due to the rapid progression of science in the era, but fortunately certain historicists have devoted their careers to sourcing and celebrating these forgotten objects. Collector Richard Balzer is one such person – an aficionado of zoetropes, dissolve slides, vue d’optiques and other such illusory devices – and since stumbling upon his first 40 years ago he has established an admirable and ever-growing collection. Here, AnOther selects a tiny fraction of his archive, from softly rippling foliage to pirouetting ballerinas and galloping horses, for your delight. – (anothermag)

Phenakistoscope, circa 1860 Courtesy of the Richard Balzer Collection
Phenakistoscope, England, 1833 Published by Thomas McLain, London, courtesy of the Richard Balzer Collection

There is some cool posts here and there on how to make your own. Like this from MakeZine, another from Instructables, and for good measure here is a video on it’s construction.

Re-animation from a paper disc by Eadweard Muybridge and his own version, the zoopraxiscope. (1893)

Animated Journal: Sad Clangers

Yes, I’ve been posting these small animated “Viney” loops on IG & SC Stories, but obviously they only play once there then they’re gone. Not substantial enough for YouTube or Vimeo so posting them on Instagram for evergreen seems to be the way.

Maybe once I’ve got a set I should put them into a full sequence similar to the first Animated Journal.

I’ll continue to blog them here as and when I update, in the meantime follow me on Snapchat or Instagram to get more instant updates.

“Stop Motion Animators Are Amazing”

“Animation is an in-depth, moment-by-moment exploration of space and time, of motion, both conscious and unconscious, of gravity, of weather, of material, of action and reaction. It asks, how does a leaf falling differ from a person falling? It looks at what I do with my hands when I’m worried, how I hold my shoulders while I’m waiting, where my eyes look when I’m sad. It asks, how do I position myself in relation to someone I love. Animators are observers and psychologists. They are actors inhabiting characters from the outside. They are physicists and engineers, first studying how things move in the real world, then figuring out how to represent that in an artificial one. How does a football bounce when it hits the ground? How does snow fall on a windy day? When you rub your eye, how long does it take to reposition itself properly in its socket? That’s one we explore in Anomalisa.

The thing I especially love about stop motion animation is that it has to figure out how to accomplish all this simulation in real space and actual time. A shirt has to be suspended in multiple positions in space as it is tossed toward a bed. How does it tumble as it’s tossed? All the different types of animators need to understand that trajectory, but only stop motion animators have to make it tumble in a real, albeit tiny room onto a real, albeit tiny bed. It has to be lit with real, albeit tiny lights. If the object tossed onto the bed is heavy enough—a suitcase, a person, for example—the bed has to react to the weight. Maybe the object has to bounce a little after it lands. How would it bounce? Straight up and down? Off at an angle? The animator must know. All this action has to be broken down into still photos, 24 of them for a second of screen time. Being involved in Anomalisa has made me more observant and more thoughtful about movement. I watch people walk and ask myself what it says about them. I watch myself fidget and ask the same questions. I notice gestures. I pay attention to the crazy movement of leaves in the breeze on the tree outside my window. I try to understand how those seemingly haphazard movements might be simplified but effectively represented. I realize we’re all moving constantly, in relation to others, unconsciously revealing our secrets, our fears, our attractions and repulsions, consciously trying to hide them, protect ourselves, make ourselves less obvious, less vulnerable.

Stop motion is an old fashioned, maybe even antiquated method of animation. And I love that about it, as well. I love that it is done by hand and that the “fingerprints” of the animators remains present in the finished film. You can see their presence in the slight chatter of clothing and hair, in the occasional awkwardness of a silicone body resisting being moved into a certain position. These are the flaws that make stop motion sing.

Lewis Hyde wrote a poem entitled “This Error is the Sign of Love” that resonates greatly with me. It begins:

This error is the sign of love,
the crack in the ice where the otters breathe,
the tear that saves a man from power,
the puff of smoke blown down the chimney one morning, and the
widower sighs and gives up his loneliness,
the lines transposed in the will so the widow must scatter
coins from the cliff instead of ashes and she marries
again, for love,
the speechlessness of lovers that forces them to leave it alone
while it sends up its first pale shoot like an onion
sprouting in the pantry,
this error is the sign of love.

As we move into an increasingly virtual society, I find solace and comfort in the hands-on, human imperfection of the stop motion process. It is to me both heartbreaking and beautiful. The imperfections of the humans who create these works make it so. And, oddly perhaps, because of this, these puppets make me feel more connected to those sweet aspects of us as human beings.”

“The Evolution Of Stop-Motion” by Vugar Efendi (2016)


The films included are:
– The Enchanted Drawing (1900)
-Fun at the Bakery Shop (1902)
-El Hotel Electrico (1905)
-Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906)
-The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912)
-The Night before Christmas (1913)
-Häxan (1922)
-The Lost World (1925)
-The Tale of Fox (1930 version)
-King Kong (1933)
-The New Gulliver (1935)
-The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
-It Came Beneath The Sea (1955)
-Earth vs Flying Saucers (1956)
-The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
-Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
-Closed Mondays (1975)
-Star wars IV: A New Hope (1977)
-Star Wars V: Empire Strikes Back (1980)
-Clash of the Titans (1981)
-The Terminator (1984)
-Robocop (1987)
-Beetlejuice (1988)
-Wallace and Gromit: A grand day out (1990)
-The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993)
-The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
-James and the Giant Peach (1996)
-Chicken Run (2000)
-Corpse Bride (2005)
-Coraline (2009)
-Mary and Max (2009)
-Fantastic Mr.Fox (2009)
-The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)
-Paranorman (2012)
-Frankenweenie (2012)
-Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
-The Little Prince (2015)
-Anomalisa (2015)
-Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

On Gwangi

Amongst the methonal fumes, corduroy flares and taste of cresta in the pre-star wars seventies there was relatively little of the fantastic to occupy the day dreaming mind of the under 10s. There was occasional Saturday morning Godzilla, there was Flash Gordon and various other assorted grand ideas fitting into a budget.

Valley of Gwangi crashed into my world during this time. At Gran’s house, A creepy pre title, the very western theme music with crashing timpani (by Jerome Morross of Big Country (not that one that one), the promise of cowboys vs dinosaurs. A playfulness of genre unusual until the age when comic books finally took over cinema.

Gwangi was conceived by Willis O’Brien, prime animator of the original King Kong. It was Part of a set of ideas featuring Cowboys and monsters (including Mighty Joe Young and the xxxxx). O’Brien was unable to finish the project and handed it to his apprentice, Ray Harryhausen, who had by then completed many multi creature films which were mostly better t.

The Allosaurus in gwangi was fast moving, tail constantly curling, in a candid moment it scratched it’s nose. It was alive. Many books at that time were still telling us that dinosaurs were sluggish, slow moving cold blooded creatures. But Harryhuasen looked at them with the eye of an animator, seeing how they neeed to move. Consequently he was ahead of many paleantologists and he produced a level of dynamism unmatched until Speilberg got his hands in the Train Set 23 years later.

Showing my children a film such as this is a recipe for heartbreak. They’re raised on hi end 21st century cgi, it’s meaning is lost to them because they don’t get the history and it’s just too old. Sometimes it’s equally devastating revisiting a treasure of childhood, one sees the flaws not perceived at such a young age. Gwangi carries some of that, yet the magic still carries me away.

I had the privilege of meeting Harryhausen about twenty years ago. I managed to mumble about how much I loved the film and had gone through the lasso sequence frame by frame enough times to degrade a VHS. He smiled and told me the story of how they had taken a jeep with a pole, the stunt riders lassoed the pole and the jeep accelerated back and forth pulling the riders off the horses, and then by the “magic of cinema” (his words) they removed the pole and put Gwangi in. I nodded gratefully and crawled back under my stone.

As mentioned The Valley of Gwangi is being shown as an open air screening in  Victoria Square, Bedminster, Bristol on August 8th as part of the Bristol Bad Film Club (wtf?) (oh wait, they apologise). I am unable to attend and have nothing but cold, hard envy for all of you who can.