Sunday, July 29, 2012

Animation Before Movies

In the period between the discovery of the principle of persistence of vision and the invention of flexible film stock, animation was born.  It was made with a variety of toys, all given impressive Greek names like Thaumatrope, Phenakistoscope and Zootrope (see the comments for the derivations of these words courtesy of Daniel).  These toys combined drawn or painted images in ways to give the illusion of movement.  The technology behind animation has become a lot more sophisticated, but it's all built on on the same principles exploited by these toys.

Richard Balzer is a collector of these toys and the images they used and he has a site where the images are animated via Flash.  This means that if you're browsing on an iPhone or iPad, you will not be able to see the motion.  He also has a blog that deals with these toys as well as other 19th century amusements such as the Magic Lantern.

While the animation is necessarily cycled and limited in duration, we have a modern equivalent in the form of animated gif files.  The more things change...


Daniel [] said...

I weep at the confusion of Greek with Latin, though I thank you for directing our attention to that site.

Mark Mayerson said...

Hi Daniel. Did I confuse the languages or did the people who named the devices confuse them? If it was me, I will be happy to correct the entry.

Daniel [] said...

The example names “Thaumatrope”, “Phenakistoscope”, and “Zootrope” are each from the Greek, albeit in the first two cases bastardized.

“Thaumatrope” (which really ought to have been “Thaumatotrope”) is basically from “θαύμα” (whose stem is “θαύματ-”), meaning miracle; and from “τρόπος”, meaning way.

“Phenakistoscope” (which ought to have been “Phenakismoscope” or “Phenakisticoscope”) comes from “φενακισμός”, meaning mystification, trickery, deceit; and from “σκοπός”, meaning watcher.

And the “zoo“ in “Zootrope” is from “ζῷον“, meaning animal.

Mark Mayerson said...

Hi Daniel. I've corrected my error in the posting and I sincerely thank you for the language lesson. I'm always happy to learn something new.

ZZDas said...

Hello there!Just to add more to the language...lesson...
I don't know about the others but it's definitively not "Zootrope" but "Zoetrope" instead...(Really)

More information could be found on the Wikipedia, some part of it:
"A zoetrope is a device that produces the illusion of motion from a rapid succession of static pictures. The term zoetrope is from the Greek words ζωή (zoe), meaning "alive, active", and τροπή (trope), meaning "turn", with "zoetrope" taken to mean "active turn" or "wheel of life"."

Thanks for the post btw ;)

Daniel [] said...

“τρόπος” could indeed also be translated as turn.

There have been numerous uses of “zootrope” for the device in question, dating back at least to 1879.

The little subscript in “ζῷον“ is an iota. The word would originally have been “ζωῖον“. At some point, still in the classical period, the iota ceased to be pronounced, effectively making the word “ζῶον“; the iota was subscripted by some, as a compromise between reaction and simply writing Greek phonetically.

If one forms the compound directly from the older Greek, then the result would be “zoitrope”. You can find this form a few places, dating back at least to 1877 But when ‘ι’ was transliterated first into Latin, they conventionally became “e”; thus the compound could be “zoetrope”. On the other hand, if one forms the compound from later Greek, it would be “zootrope”.

“Zoetrope” is definitely correct; “zoitrope” is definitely correct; “zootrope” is definitely correct. Just take your pick and tolerate the other two.