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date: 28 February 2020


A Dictionary of Film Studies

Annette Kuhn,

Guy Westwell


An optical toy consisting of a cylinder with a series of sequential pictures on the inner surface that, when viewed through slots in the cylinder as it rotates, gives the impression that the pictures are in motion. There is evidence that Zoetropes—or something similar—were popular in China from as early as 180 ad: records describe a device referred to as ‘The Pipe Which Makes Fantasies Appear’ that used heat convection from a lamp to rotate the drum. In Europe, the device was originally called the Daedaleum, and its invention is usually attributed to an Englishman, William George Horner, who in 1834 refined the Phenakistiscope in such a way as to create a smoother impression of movement and allow multiple viewers. The device was not commercially exploited until 1867, when a number of patents were lodged and the name Zoetrope or Zootrope was coined. A further refinement of the device by French inventor Émile Reynaud in 1877 was named the Praxinoscope. The Zoetrope is associated with a Victorian fascination with the phenomenon of persistence of vision and is considered an important precursor to early cinema. Further developments of the Zoetrope include linear versions in which the viewer physically moves past slots in a screen behind which sequential images are placed; this allows for longer, non-repetitive animation. Filmmaker Bill Brand’s ‘Masstransiscope’, incorporated into a subway platform in Brooklyn, New York in 1980 (and restored in 2008), is a good example of this. See also series photography.

Enticknap, Leo Douglas Graham Moving Image Technology: From Zoetrope to Digital (2005).Find this resource:

Strauven, Wanda The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded (2006).Find this resource: