Friday, December 11, 2009

Snowflake Phenakistoscopes

Snowflake image from animated as a phenakistoscope.

A phenakistoscope is an animation toy from the 1830s that takes flat artwork and turns it into a short animated movie.

You spin the disks and look through the slots, which act as a shutter. In a modern variation, the slots are on the artwork disk. You mount the disk on a pivot and spin the disk while looking through the slots into a mirror.

Here's a 12 frame phenakistoscope that I designed:

Happy face phenakistoscope by Andrew Jaremko
Right click on the image to download a 1600x1600 black and white version suitable for printing out.

Here's what the happy face looks like in motion, at 12 frames per second:

Happy face phenakistoscope animated at 12 frames per second.

Each frame in the 12 frame phenakistoscope is rotated 30 degrees from the previous frame. It struck me that a snowflake makes very pretty flat artwork, with very nice hexagonal symmetry. That makes for a 6 frame phenakistoscope, with each frame rotated 60 degrees from the previous frame.

Snowflake phenakistoscope at 10 frames per second.

You can turn a snowflake into a phenakistoscope in your paint software. First, cut the snowflake out from its background, so that any color gradient won't rotate in the background. Then, duplicate the snowflake layer 5 times for a total of 6 layers. Rotate 5 of the layers to 60, 120, 180, 240, and 300 degrees from the original orientation. (You may have to use -120 and -60 degrees for the last two in programs like Photoshop that only allow rotations between -180 and 180 degrees.) Line up the snowflakes so that some feature(s) on all of them are in line - it might be the center point, or an inner hexagon, or one of the dendrites. Create a background and merge it with each of the six snowflake layers. Then output the image to a GIF animation and your snowflake will spin!

Snowflake phenakistoscope at 10 frames per second.

Details on the snowflakes seem to pulsate (animators call it "boiling") because snowflakes are never perfectly symmetrical. Here's a "furry" snowflake that shows this boiling even better:

Furry snowflake phenakistoscope at 10 frames per second.

I posted a movie of mine that features my phenakistocopes. Here it is:

The snowflake images in this post are from and Dr. Kenneth G. Libbrecht, the photographer and copyright holder, are in no way connected with what I've done here. His very generous copyright policy allows noncommercial use and posting of his images. Many thanks to Dr. Libbrecht!

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Dance of the Dolls"

"Dance of the Dolls" is a thoroughly mixed production format movie made with the aid of my program StopMotion Station.

The producers, Johnson Imagineering, have kindly let me embed the movie here. They show us what can be done with a vision, imagination, and a liberal dose of digital technology. Shall we dance?

If you have a movie you've made with the help of any of my software, I'd love to see it. Just email me at

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Directing the Story by Francis Glebas

The subtitle of this book is "Professional Storytelling and Storyboarding Techniques for Live Action and Animation" - which almost sums it up. I'd go further and add "Essential" to that subtitle. Click on the image, or on the following link, to read a substantial excerpt from Directing the Story on Google Books.

If you've opened up the book preview (it'll open in a new tab or new window), look at the table of contents. (I really love it when publishers make important excerpts from the books available - I don't have to waste space here and we all get to see the real thing.) He starts by asking "Why do we watch (movies)?" and the theme of asking fundamental questions continues throughout the book.

And he answers the questions, too - using insights from modern neuropsychology and scientific understanding of our senses, brains and minds. I admire him for this, as well - I feel that understanding what makes us tick is important for understanding stories, storytelling, characters in stories, and our audiences.

He focuses on cinematically told stories - in which the sequenced images that make up a movie are a language that the director uses to direct the audience's attention and guide them through the movie's story.

The whole book is constructed using storytelling techniques and includes storyboard examples that illuminate the concepts he's discussing. It's not a textbook on storytelling, but there is enough here to go on. It's also not a textbook on drawing, but there's enough drawing instruction and advice in here to improve any storyboard artist's work.

I love this book and everyone who tells stories in any of the movie media needs it. He provides a complete bibliography, so you can find out more about any of the topics he covers. This book is the keystone of an animator's library.

The best place I found for more about Mr. Glebas is his portfolio website. He tells great stories from his career in the book, too.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stop Motion Magazine

Stop Motion Animation Magazine August 2009 cover

I've just found out about a new online magazine devoted specifically to stop motion animation in all its many guises. Stop Motion Magazine will be published monthly and is free to view or download. The August 2009 issue is available now!

The 48 pages include interviews with Stephen Chiodo, Ron Cole, Justin and Shel Rasch, and Misha Klein. (I admit that I have to read the interviews to find out who these people are! :-[ ) A Toon Boom 5 product review and two articles, Simple Wire Rig Construction and Wire Rig Removal (that's removing flying rigs, actually, not the wire rigs in your characters) round out the issue. The writing style is clear, and I think every stop motion animator will find something valuable in the magazine. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tony White's "Endangered Species"

Tony White is an animator and teacher who is passionate about classic drawn animation - created one frame at a time. Every animator should see his ode to classic animation: Endangered Species.

I wasn't able to find an online biography of Tony White, but this excerpt from his book, Animation From Pencils to Pixels, will tell you a little about him:

"Along my career path, I have studied with some of the greatest names in animation: the late Ken Harris (master “Bugs Bunny” and “Roadrunner” animator from the Warner Brothers studio) and Art Babbitt (animator on films such as “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” during the golden age of Disney). I served (and survived) as Richard Williams’ (three-time Academy Award winner and author of the exceptional “Animator’s Survival Kit”) own personal assistant for two years. This wonderful exposure to the very best talents the industry can offer enabled me to absorb the finer secrets of all the great traditions at a very early age."

As I write this, I haven't finished reading the book, but I can tell that it's an essential part of any animator (professional or amateur) or animation student's library. It's a book that I wish I had written - or, more accurately, that I wish I could have written.

Check out this very substantial excerpt on Google Books:

Animation From Pencils to Pixels:
Classical Techniques for Digital Animation

And you can buy the book at

Animation From Pencils to Pixels

I particularly like Tony's Dedication:

This book is dedicated to
all those selfless pencils
who sacrificed everything
in the pursuit of the
animated dream!

There's definitely a movie - or two - in that tale of heroic sacrifice, desire, partnership and conflict, betrayal and redemption, in pursuit of animated dreams.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Classic Animation Equipmen Projects from Instructables

When you think classic animation, you think cartoons. To do classic cartoon animation you really need a way of holding your drawings in alignment ("registration") and seeing what you've already drawn while you're making the next drawing.

The simplest registration system is "corner registration" - you just line up the corners of your stack of paper. Don't laugh at it - two time Academy Award nominee animator (Blackfly (1991), Nibbles (2003)) Chris Hinton uses corner registration for at least some of his work, including "Nibbles". But the usual way is to punch holes in your animation paper and use a "peg bar" to keep the pages lined up.

The industry standard Acme peg bars aren't in every stationer's; to use them you need an expensive punch or pre-punched paper - also a specialty item. Standard 3 hole punches will work - and here's a project from that shows you how to make the peg bar you need. It also shows how to make the light box or tracing table that you'll want for tracing your drawings.

Cheap Animation Table

Here's another light box, this time built into an old briefcase for compact storage and easy portability.

Cheap Light Box

These are great ideas - and is full of ideas for everything you want to do. Explore, enjoy, and contribute your own projects!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


And now the result of the lockdown: here's the movie. The audience enjoyed it at the party, laughed at the right places, and gave it a good round of applause.

I like what I did; the virtual cutout animation lets me use squash, stretch, motion blur, and transparency with cutouts. The "electric arc" that the pencil uses to open my head is "virtual progressive" animation - I was drawing it on a separate layer and partially erasing each previous drawing so the successive arcs fade away. Enjoy my movie!