Digital/Drawing: Zoetrope GIF Experiment

by Beauchamp Art


Zoetrope (Hand-Drawn Animation & GIFs)

This was originally undertaken as part of a Zoetrope animation workshop during the Interchange Day, which I have subsequently animated into a basic looping GIF. The drawing itself was fairly rudimentary, illustrating a stylised eye line drawing, which morph through abstracted figurative imagery, round to a small blob that precludes that initial image once again.  This follows in the wake of the first earlier producers of sequential imagery, such as Eadweard Muybridge, who famously was the first person to document a horse’s gallop though a series of photographs triggered by the horse as it moved, and who after went on to document a range of human and animal movements and actions.

These sorts of imagery found there way into new display methods to fit the products of the new media of the 1800-1900s, one of which being the zoetrope: a spinning cylinder, with the inside lined with images in sequence, and slits cut vertically down the opposite side of each image, so when the mechanism was spun on the pivot of its axis, the individual images would blend together, prodding one moving sequence, much as the landscape behind a a fence may appear unbroken when moving at speed in a train. This, and similar devices, served as precursor to the development of moving pictures, following the magic lantern shows to the cinema, and the advent of screen-based media from the 20th century onwards.

However, whereas films and zoetropes based on the images of Muybridge’s images (and those of his peers and successor) were intended to form a continuously moving illusion that transformed several image into one before the eyes of the viewer, my zoetrope, drawn on 18 post-it notes sized pieces of paper where more disparate and not exclusively representational, and although each frame was traced over from the previous. The overall sequence akin to clay being moulded into many shapes before returning to its initial state, rather than an image given the illusion of movement through stop-motion hand-drawn animation (following the hand-drawn cart-horse).

Following this initial drawn exercise, I had intended to produce further zoetrope sequences, potentially making use of the video stills from other film works – particularly the TFHDR Optical Flow clip, as the images from that sequences are already in a state of unstable transition, using them in a zoetrope would have provided an interesting way to counterpoint the highly modern imagery with a historical means of display, one that embodies the poetics of the loop and the diffusion of materiality through moving image, more than any other: retrofitting the aesthetic of the GIF to the rotary motion of the  zoetrope.



Static Zoetrope

In addition to the (current unrealised) plan to use film stills as images in a zoetrope, I also made plans for a form of ‘Static Zoetrope’ that inverted the principal of the viewer beings still and the images spinning before, by positing that the images could be still, and the viewer move around them. To this end, I made a number of drawings, ketches and diagrams of varying complexity. One of the larger plans involve placing the images on the outside of a conical structure, which would be animated by the viewer moving around the piece at speed, thereby forcing them to literally run in circles to understand the visual content.

This could be seen to reflect the idea of the cycle within society, and the kinaesthesia generated by moving pictures and revolutions that revolve replacing old tsars for new bourgeois dictators, new change for old money, remaining static to the rest of the world whilst busing the individual with the rotating rodents wheel that transforms the rat race into an existential and apathetic dash to a conclusion identical to the initial state. As with the previous suggestion, film or GIF images could be used. The Twenty Four Hour Delirium Rhythm sequence would make highly effective fodder, as the spinning form could resembled a sort of new/old media clock, always revolving, always moving, but never changing (like the aforementioned political scenario).

However, a number of other options were available for the experiments with a zoetrope, including using a photo series, drawings based on films, or a simple image sequence, like a rotating head (reproaching the möbius of Rollin Lenard’s videos and animations). But similarly, separate sections of newsreel or text could produce an interesting fusion of imagery, reflecting the notion of the information overload (as discussed in my dissertation). Moreover, following on from the Colchester and Pause drawing performances, lard chalk or charcoal drawings based on films could work equally well, as there need not be a continuity in imagery as in the flow of a film, but rather the stylistic continuum of the medium would create an artificial sense of continuity, forcing the viewer to find connections between the disconnected imagery; a time-based montage-collage in 3D space.

Another, simpler, planed zoetrope would be to print a series of images on a single sheet of paper or card with the images spaced so that a slit could be cut between each, which could be attached around the rim of another flat circular piece of card. Through the centre of which a hole could be punctured with a rod that would be fastened in place, so that if its shaft was placed between to flat palms placed together, and the hands moved rapidly back and forth, the cylinder would spin, producing a handheld zoetrope (the ‘Blue Peter’ solution, accomplished with paper, a pencil and sticky-back plastic). This idea for a hand cranked zoetrope may work equally well for demonstration purposes and function as an effective miniature or prototype.

This may allegorise the reinventing of the wheel, whereby film may be reinvented as a non linear experience, in order to understand the remediation of representational sequential image formats through the ages, to reflect changing technology; the continuity and repetition between generations of different formats, and the rate of acceleration at which people are expected to take in knowledge. An exponentially accelerating static zoetrope fuses Moore’s Law and rodent revolution.