A zoetrope is a device that makes a series of images to appear animated. It does this by taking advantage of a phenomenon called Persistence of Vision (POV).

When you look through the slits in the wall of a zoetrope, your visual system retains the image it's presented with for a fraction of a second after the next image has moved into view, so as it spins your brain merges the previous image with the next one, creating the appearance of fluid motion. This is same principle upon which flip books, CRT televisions, and film movies work.

One magical aspect of zoetropes is how difficult it can be to capture the effect on camera. This is due to something called the rolling shutter effect (this video by Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day provides a great explanation of the phenomenon). Because of rolling shutter, the zoetrope is best experienced in real life, as the mystical, defiant object that it is. 

In this guide we will build a low-cost zoetrope that you can use to make and view your own animated sequences. The tools and materials used will be kept as simple and inexpensive as possible, so as to make it accessible and quick to put together.

Household Materials

In addition to the electronics you will need to gather some everyday materials from around the home.

  • Printer & paper (3 sheets)
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • X-acto knife
  • Piece of scrap cardboard (optional)
  • Metal washer (optional)
  • A hole punch (optional)

The Electronics

1 x Circuit Playground Express
Circuit Playground Express is the perfect introduction to electronics and programming
1 x Adafruit CRICKIT for Circuit Playground Express
Creative Robotics and Interactive Construction Kit is an add-on to our popular Circuit Playground Express that lets you #MakeRobotFriend using CircuitPython
1 x USB cable - A/MicroB - 3ft
Standard A to micro-B USB cable
1 x Alkaline AA batteries - 3 pack
These batteries are good quality at a good price, and work fantastic with any of the kits or projects that use AAs.
1 x 3 x AA Battery Holder
Battery holder with On/Off Switch, DC plug
1 x DC Gearbox Motor - "TT Motor" - 200RPM - 3 to 6VDC
TT DC Gearbox Motor with a gear ratio of 1:48 and 2 x 200mm wires with breadboard-friendly 0.1" male connectors

If your Circuit Playground Express and CRICKIT aren't already connected, now is the time to do that.

The animation below demonstrates how the two become one.

This guide was first published on Jul 12, 2018. It was last updated on Mar 08, 2024.

This page (Overview) was last updated on Mar 08, 2024.

Text editor powered by tinymce.