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Definition of Term

  • an early animation device made from a spinning disc attached to a handle, with a series of drawings showing frames of an animation 

Extended Explanation

  • a spinning disc attached vertically to a handle. Arrayed around the disc's center were a series of drawings showing phases of the animation, and cut through it were a series of equally spaced radial slits. The user would spin the disc and look through the moving slits at the disc's reflection in a mirror. The scanning of the slits across the reflected images kept them from simply blurring together, so that the user would see a rapid succession of images that appeared to be a single moving picture.

  • The first part of the term 'phenakistoscope' comes from Greek (phenakizein), meaning "to deceive, to cheat", as it deceives the eye by making the objects in the pictures appear to move.


Study Guide Resources

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      • Dating back to 1832, the Phenakistoscope (Fen-a-KIST-o-scope) is probably the oldest device to actually produce motion pictures. Oddly enough, the inventor, Joseph Plateau, was partially blind. Earlier in life he had stared at the sun for 20 minutes to test out his persistence of vision. The sun’s glaring image stayed in his eyes for several weeks after that, not because of persistence of vision, but because the bright rays had burned holes in the backs of his eyes! In the months that followed, his eyesight grew progressively worse, and it was during this period that he dreamed up his ingenious way of producing motion pictures. 

      How it works:
      • The phenakistoscope uses the persistence of motion principle to create an illusion of motion. Although this principle had been recognized by the Greek mathematician Euclid and later in experiments by Newton, it was not until 1829 that this principle became firmly established by Joseph Plateau.

      • The phenakistoscope consisted of two discs mounted on the same axis. The first disc had slots around the edge, and the second contained drawings of successive action, drawn around the disc in concentric circles. Unlike Faraday's Wheel, whose pair of discs spun in opposite directions, a phenakistoscope's discs spin together in the same direction. When viewed in a mirror through the first disc's slots, the pictures on the second disc will appear to move.

      • What became of it:
      • The phenakistoscope was a great improvement on the previous thaumatrope, creating a MOVING image from several stills, and became the first optical toy to create a true illusion of motion. It was quite successful for two years until the invention of the next device the zoetrope.