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This Machine From Ancient China Can Still Produce Incredible Animated Videos Today

Zoetropes were once called "the pipe that make fantasies appear."

by Zach Sokol
18 December 2013, 8:12pm

There are so many stop-motion videos out there that it's refreshing to see the technique appear in today's animation landscape through use of a somewhat forgotten device. Re-meet the zoetrope, a machine once called "the pipe that makes fantasies appear."

Artists Stephen Meierding and Sami Jano have perfectly used a zoetrope to make a memorable animated video that stands out due to its simplistic-yet-crafty nature. They built a 14 foot long x 3 inch zoetrope for the band Appomattox's music video, "United, allowing the artists to step inside and have their faces inches away from the fast-moving machine. "Fortunately," the directors write, "no major facial paper cuts were incurred."

The machine originally came from ancient China (180 AD, is the earliest cited date) and it creates the illlusion of motion through analog means. The hand-made animator produces an kinetic effect after you take a cylinder and paste a strip of images on the inside and cut verticle slits into the outside. Then give it a spin, and voila, a cartoon is born. You might remember the machine from the BRAVIA-drome (the world's largest zoetrope), a 10 x 10 meter cylindrical fortress built in England to promote Sony's motion interpolation technology.

When a zoetrope gets filmed, the effect exists somewhere among a flipbook, pinhole camera, and stop-motion video, making it ideal for a music video if the right images are picked. With "United," we see a variety of facial hair, animals with laser beam eyes, and a deluge of color--ripe choices to spark a double-take or at least a smile. 

In a year of many great music videos, this clever clip is refreshing due to its nod to an old animation style while still maintaining a sense of modern humor (again, bears with laser beam eyes). Watch the clip above, and you'll be convinced that the ancient technology is just as relevant today if paired with some shrewd artists.