Modern Zeotrope

Animation, a captivating art form, brings inanimate objects to life, mesmerizing audiences of all ages. From classic hand-drawn cartoons to modern computer-generated imagery (CGI), animation owes its magic to a fascinating phenomenon known as "Persistence of Vision." This visual principle lies at the heart of animation, allowing static images to create the illusion of movement. In this article, we will explore how Persistence of Vision enables animation and the ingenious techniques animators employ to craft captivating moving pictures.


Persistence of Vision is a physiological phenomenon that occurs in the human visual system. When we perceive motion, even when it is not a continuous stream of images, but rather a rapid sequence of individual still frames. However, our eyes and brain have the remarkable ability to retain an image for a fraction of a second after it disappears from sight. This residual image blending with subsequent frames creates the illusion of smooth, continuous motion.


The critical factor in the Persistence of Vision is the "flicker fusion threshold," the speed at which individual images blend together to appear as one continuous motion. For the human eye, this threshold is around 16 to 24 frames per second (fps). This discovery forms the foundation of animation techniques and has revolutionized the entertainment industry.


The concept of Persistence of Vision has been utilized for centuries in early forms of animation. One of the earliest examples is the "zoetrope," invented in the 19th century. A zoetrope consists of a drum with vertical slits and a strip of illustrations or photographs on the inside. When the drum is spun and observed through the slits, the images appear to come to life due to the Persistence of Vision, creating a mesmerizing animated effect. Basic ones can still be purchased and are just as much fun as when they were first invented.


As animation evolved, so did the techniques used to exploit Persistence of Vision. Frame-by-frame animation became a prominent method, wherein individual pictures, or frames, are drawn sequentially, each slightly different from the previous one. When these frames are played in rapid succession, typically at 24 fps for movies, the illusion of fluid motion emerges, captivating audiences worldwide.


Traditional hand-drawn animation involved skilled artists creating each frame on sheets of paper, while stop-motion animation used physical objects or puppets that were meticulously posed and photographed frame by frame. This painstaking process exemplifies the power of Persistence of Vision, transforming simple drawings or inanimate objects into living, breathing characters.


With advancements in technology, traditional animation made way for computer-generated imagery (CGI) in the latter half of the 20th century. CGI animation employs sophisticated software to create three-dimensional models, which can then be manipulated and animated digitally. Despite the shift in tools, the fundamental principle of Persistence of Vision remained at the core, enabling these digital creations to come alive on the screen.


The art of animation continues to awe and entertain us, thanks to the mesmerizing phenomenon of Persistence of Vision. From the early days of zoetropes to the cutting-edge CGI animations of today, this principle has allowed artists and animators to harness the human visual system's unique capabilities to bring imagination to life. As technology continues to advance, we can expect animation to reach new heights, but its foundation will always rest on the captivating magic of Persistence of Vision.


For anyone wanting to learn more about the wonders of animation, it is needless to say there are plenty of excellent books on the subject available on Amazon.