Phenomenal Phenakistiscope


MediumHousehold • Craft


•  Battery Cube
•  Motor Cube
•  40-tooth gear
•  Manila folder
•  Ruler
•  Compass
•  Pencil with eraser
•  Scotch tape
•  Mirror for looking


Audrey Fehlhaber


Invented in 1832, the Phenakistiscope is any early animation device created to amuse children by candlelight. Your Phenakistiscope is slightly more modern but just as much fun!


1  Gather your Cubes, building bricks, and other materials.

2  On one half of the manila folder, use the compass to draw a large circle that fills up as much of the page as possible. Mark the center of the circle with your pencil.

3  Draw a diameter of this circle, and using a right angle, draw a second diameter of the circle which is perpendicular to the first. This divides the circle into four equal sections.

4  Your compass should still be set to the size you used to make the big circle. Put the compass at one of the four points where the lines you just drew intersect the circle. Now, if you spin the compass around you'll notice it crosses the circle at two points. Mark those spots, and then repeat for the other three intersection points.

5  Draw lines from the points you marked in the last step to the center of the circle. The circle should now be divided into 12 equal sections!
Note: You can also choose to draw less or more sections, depending on the number of images you’d like.

6 Cut out the circle. Cut a 1/4" wide slit at down each of the 12 radii. The slits should be 1/4" thick and extend 1"-2" down from the edge towards the center of the circle.

7  Sketch out an image that changes gradually over 12 frames (or as many congruent sections your circle is divided into). Be sure that this image includes motion so that change over time is recognizable. Draw this image sequentially onto the circle so that each sector (slice) of the circle shows a slight variation of the image drawn in the previous sector. Erase the drawn lines as well.

8  Tape a 40-tooth gear to the back of the circle in the center.

9  Stack the Motor Cube on top of the Battery Cube so that the switch on the Battery Cube and spinning shaft of the Motor Cube face opposite directions.

10  Slide the gear onto the shaft of the motor. Looking into the mirror through the slots cut in the circle, turn on the Battery Cube to watch your image come to life!