Data + Design Project

155 Years Before the GIF: The First Looping Animations Created for the Phenakistoscope

Monday 12.02.2013 , Posted by
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Phenakistoscope animations 2Phenakistoscope animations 8

A little while ago we covered the technology that went into Japanese band SOUR’s music video animated on spinning CDs… but that’s just the most recent in a long line of spinning disk animations. Almost 155 years before CompuServe launched their first animated GIF in 1987, Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau created the Phenakistoscope – commonly regarded as the first device to display a true animation.

Joseph Plateau’s popular mechanism used spinning discs attached to a vertical handle (see picture below). A series of drawings were arrayed on the disk, each one corresponding to a radially cut slit. The viewer gave the disk a spin in front of a mirror and looked through the slits to the images reflected behind. This happens because the slots create luminous impulses in sequence, fooling the eye into perceiving motion through the phi phenomenon.

Here we bring you some of the early examples of Plateau’s invention, carefully digitized and animated in GIF form by The Richard Balzer Collection. They really give you an appreciation for the talent of early animators!

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Phenakistoscope animations 1

Phenakistoscope animations 3

Phenakistoscope animations 4

Phenakistoscope animations 5

Phenakistoscope animations 6

Phenakistoscope animations 7

Via This Is Colossal

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Benjamin Starr

Written by Benjamin Starr



Known in some circles as the most amazing man in the universe, he once saved an entire family of muskrats from a sinking, fire engulfed steamboat while recovering from two broken arms relating to a botched no-chute wingsuit landing in North Korea. When not impressing people with his humbling humility, he can be found freelance writing, finding shiny objects on the internet, enjoying the company of much-appreciated friends and living out his nomadic nature. He is Managing Editor of Visual News. Follow his movements on Twitter:

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