Library Extras

Fool Your Eyes!

Even before Edweard Muybrige invented his zoopraxiscope, and well before modern movie cameras with reels of film came along, people had developed various devices for creating the illusion of motion from still pictures. One old-fashioned toy, the phenakistoscope, lets you view a series of cleverly drawn pictures through slots as it spins. As in the movies, or a flipbook, your eyes see still images in rapid succession--and the brain perceives motion.

Why does it work? When the photoreceptors inside your eyes sense an object, they retain the image for a fraction of a second. This is called persistence of vision. If you replace the first image with a second one quickly enough, the brain blends the two together to perceive motion.

That’s what happens when you go to the movies. The film projector flashes 24 still pictures on the screen each second. That’s fast enough for you to have the illusion of seeing “moving pictures” when you are really seeing just thousands of rapidly changing still ones.

Try a Phenakistoscope!
To make your own phenakistoscope using images created by Muybridge at the end of the 19th century, begin by printing this PDF on a color printer.

Download PDF Download & Print this PDF

  1. Carefully cut out the disk and paste it to a dark piece of stiff cardboard. Make sure you cut the slits evenly. It’s easier if you cut each side, then bend the cut part down and snip it off.
  2. Use a push pin or tack to attach the disk through the “X”  in the center to the eraser of a long pencil. Make sure the cardboard side is facing the pencil.
  3. Stand in front of a mirror with Muybridge's images toward the mirror and the dark cardboard side facing you. Spin the disk while you look at the mirror through the slits. Enjoy the dance!

Phenakistoscope Directions