The Zoetrope lives!

Phonotrope animation by Jim Le Fevre made in collaboration with DJ Malcolm Goldie

A favourite website of mine is Jim Le Fevre, the personal site of a British freelance animator. Aside from his standard animation work, Jim Le Fevre is a focal point for what has become a whole school of film artists working with what was once called pre-cinema technology to explore new forms of animation.

It works like this. The Zoetrope was an optical toy devised in the 1830s which presenting a strip of successive images around the inside of a drum. When the drum was revolved, viewing through slits in the side created the illusion of a single moving image. Le Fevre’s reinterpretation of this he originally called the (take a deep breath) Phonographantasmascope and now, a little more practically, calls the Phonotrope. For this he used a record player (revolving at 45 rpm) combined with a video camera shooting at 25 frames per second. By placing images or objects on the revolving turntable, and then playing with assorted variations on the basic set-up, some extraordinary animations emerge.

Here, for example, is Le Fevre demonstrating the process at the Flatpack Festival in 2009:

Le Fevre has a page on his website dedicated to the work of other animators and video artists working with their own variations on the Phonotrope idea. The level of invention is outstanding. You must visit his site (or follow his blog for regular updates) to see a fuller list of names working in this area, but here are few examples to whet the appetite (with links to the artists’ personal websites).

Retchy (aka Graeme Hawkins) uses balsa wood and a turntable to create what he calls 3D Zoetrope Sine Waves:

This extraordinary work is by Sculpture, who are Reuben Sutherland (animator) and Dan Hayhurst (music). They recently released a picture disc LP, ‘Rotary Signal Emitter’ and the video shows the disc being played:

Clemens Kogler calls his version of the technique Phonovideo. This ingenious video was created with two turntables, cameras, a videomixer and prints on cardboard.

Simon Oosterdijk has produced this brief but haunting video with 3D running figures on his turntable (sound design by Paul Gerring):

Here is David Wilson with a deluxe version of the technique made for a pop video (Moray McLaren, ‘We Got Time’). Everything you see in this video was created in camera.

On a humbler but no less inventive level is Tim Wheatley’s inspired use of a bicycle wheel instead of a turntable to create what he calls the Cyclotrope:

What is so pleasing to see in these videos is the continuation of the Victorian delight in motion recaptured. Narrative, or photographic realism aren’t required (though some have started to introduce both). All that is needed to engross us is a repeated motion, the very basics of the inanimate brought to life. It takes you back to the wonder that is the motion picture. What has been done with the medium since 1896 is all very well, but it’s just extending the basic idea to pass the time. Go back to that primal capture and replaying of motion, and you have the eureka moment played over and over again. Look, it moves!

I must just show you one more – Eric Dyer‘s ‘The Bellows March’. Motion pictures in their purest form.

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