Who Needs Film?
Ruth Hayes · From fps #5 · November 1, 2005 | The main focus of animation is the apparatus that communicates change. It's not just the illusion of movement, because in many animation forms, the illusion is acknowledged. The obviousness of that acknowledgement varies from device to device. Of course, animation can be presented seamlessly, as in cinema, so that the illusion isn't as much in the foreground. But a wonderful tension arises from the simultaneous perception of movement or change and the knowledge of how the illusion that brings it to life is constructed. That tension is strongest in animation toys such as the zoetrope or flipbook. From an animator's point of view, different devices present different challenges to consider when making sequences. They impose different structural forms on the content.
Attributes of the zoetrope that affect the animation's structure are size, cyclical movement in one plane, a pronounced strobe, and the number and type of slots. The zoetrope I work with takes a 3″ × 36″ strip of paper. It has twelve slots, so usually I divide the strip into twelve 3″ square frames. When the zoetrope is spun, the drawing in the first frame follows the one in the twelfth frame directly. It's a cycle, so I use the zoetrope to develop gestures, movements or changes that logically repeat themselves. Since twelve is divisible by so many numbers, it's possible to embed cycles of three, four or six frames in one strip.
The zoetrope slots are an eighth to a quarter of an inch wide (the narrower the slot, the better focus). In between them are over 2¾″ of opaque black which hide the strip from view. While this strobe is key to the illusion, it also makes it hard to see light or fine lines and small detail in the artwork. So I try to work with bold lines and simple forms. Usually the zoetrope sits horizontally, so the strip spins from one side to the other. When you look through the slots at it spinning, you can see four or five frames simultaneously. This means that objects drawn entering or exiting the sides of the frame will be visible longer than you might want them to be. The illusion of vertical movement in a horizontally spinning strip is much easier to create.
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