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Pixar and the art of zoetrope

John Lasseter has repeated  several times: «When it comes to animation, technology is not everything». And to prove it he brought at Milan Exhibition– among the sketches of his greatest masterpieces and 3D installations – also Pixar’s Zoetrope , an artisanal creation that revives a primitive way of making movies. Built specifically for the occasion, the model is based on the principle that static subjects come to life and come alive if a large number of them is reproduced in a fast paced sequence. This is the same phenomenon that makes it possible to watch a film without noticing the single frames, giving theillusion of continuity.

So let’s forget complicated graphics software for a moment: to see the protagonists of the saga of Toy Story 3come to life all we need is one wheel on which to place a sequence of three-dimensional figurines of the characters (eighteen per level), a strong push and there you go. As the zoetropetakes speed, the subjects begin to move. We can see Jessie the cowgirl spin the lasso over her head, Buzz doing some acrobatic jumps bouncing on a ball and Woody riding his horse.

And if we switch from a wooden wheel to the wheel of a bicycle the result is even funnier. The idea comes from Katy Beveridge, a London student working in the field of new media and design that has created an unprecedented zoetrope by arranging a series of white geometric shapes on the frame of the wheel of her bike. Just one stroke of the pedal and here comes an “animated film in real time”, as Beveridge herself explains it on her YouTube channel.

The first zoetrope’s date back to the nineteenth century. Then the structure consisted of a cylinder with slits cut vertically on the sides. Under the slits, on the inner surface of the cylinder a series of drawings in sequence or photographs was arranged: when the cylinder began to turn, the user looking through the cracks saw a rapid succession of images that produced the illusion of movement, the equivalent of a film.

Pixar’s 3D zoetrope was inspired by the model found in the Ghibli Museum, in Japan, where an intermittent strobe light (instead of the traditional slits) used to give a sense of continuous movement.