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How to make a Phenakistoscope

This is a very early version of film. It was invented by Joseph Plateau in 1851 and it consists of a disc with images and slits on it. Looking at it in a mirror while you rotate it will create an animation.

I have the template packet right here for you to download! Thanks for coming over from youtube. Bookmark this page and check back tomorrow for the tutorial.

In this project I give you the scope plans, three discs and an extra disc that is blank so you can make your own animation. I also have a video tutorial on this project at the bottom of the page. In that video I show you the Phenakistoscope in action.


Will has a youtube channel with over 700 videos on projects you can make. Check it out right here


The finished scope with extra disc.

A phenakistoscope

You use it with a mirror. You spin it and look through the slots. An animation will appear.

Using the phenakistoscope



Note from Will about what is in the template packet: There are three spinning disks that are eight inches in diameter. To use these disks you make the smaller handle in the template. If you want to see the flying fairy animation that is a larger ten inch disk. There are two parts to that disk that you glue together onto poster board. And to use this larger disk make the larger handle in the template.

Note from Will: The Template and the tutorial are both absolutely free! But would you consider a donation of $1 to support my work? Paypal makes it very easy and safe. Click here to donate $1 - Every little bit helps Will to keep making great tutorials and templates. Thanks!


Cut out the disk

Let's Get started! Let's start with the easy disk. If you printed up my template you can cut out this disk. The bouncing ball is on page 6. I also have a spinning clock hand that is on page 7.

Glue to sturdy paper

Glue or glue stick that disk to heavy paper, cardstock or something thin and firm. It has to stay reasonably stiff while you spin it. I am using poster board.

Cut out the slots

Cut out the slots in the disk. Try to make the slots nice and evenly cut and the same diameter.

The handle template

Lay those sheets on foamboard. My foamboard for this is black.

Trace it

Trace them, pressing down firmly. This creates an embossed line on the foamboard. Trace two of each.

go over the lines

Then you can remove the template and go over the lines with a pencil. Go ahead and cut those pieces out.

Glue the pieces together

And glue them together.

Assemble the pieces

Gluing the last piece on.

Piece the center hole

Now put the disk in there and pierce through everything with a toothpick. It acts as the spoke that the disk can spin on. Be sure to penetrate it right through the center of the spinning disk.

TEst it by spinning

Test it to see if it spins smoothly. Make any needed adjustments.

Draw the figures

I give you a blank eight inch disk in the template so you can draw out your own animation.

Draw the animation

This is a fairy animation we have in the template. But don't make something too complex. For this fairy the only thing that moves is the wings.

Usinga light box

And to keep everything but the wings exactly the same we used a light box. (I have a tutorial on how to make a cheap light box right here)

The series of drawings

Here are our twelve drawings. We cut these out and pasted them to the circular disk.

A disk

Photo: Phenakistoscope-Pre Nipkow Disk-1833 To see the animation in action you can watch the video:

Watch the Video Tutorial

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