Workshop 1: Vision machines and mechanics

In response to the works and themes explored in the first lecture, we will be building vision machines in the first workshop. You will explore the simple mechanics of two optical devices: zoetrope and phenakitscope. You will research the history of these devices, the optical mechanisms by which they operate as well as contemporary works that extend these forms. You will also creating a short animation using motorised devices. These exercises will lead discussion on how we may interact with technological devices, and importantly, what produces meaningful interactions?


  1. Create a new category on your personal learning blog for MEDA202 (if you do not have a blog, create one).
  2. Create an entry for this week that include your research, artwork analyses, notes from discussion and documentation of the exercise. These weekly workshop posts will contribute to the research for your Major project assignment.
  3. Go through subject outline and assessment outlines, raise any questions you have.
  4. Create an animation using the zoetrope/ phenakistiscope set up provided.

Research Analysis:

Etienne Jules-Marey's Zoetrope

Etienne-Jules Marey’s zoetrope (circa 1878)

There is plenty of information on the internet on how to make a zoetrope or a phenakistoscope. Take this opportunity to find out and understand the optical illusion that produces apparent movement. This is the basis how we preceive all moving images. Research and find out:

  • The history of the device: who invented it? When? Why?
  • What was it used for? Who used it?
  • How does the device work? What are the principles/ mechanisms that allow us to see movement?
  • How was the device constructed?
  • What other physical forms do they take? What are some similar devices?

Have a look at the following contemporary interpretation of these devices:

Kate Turnbull, Modern Vanitas, 2012

Bill Brand, Masstransiscope, 1980/ 2013

Akinori Goto, Toki, 2013

Caleb Wood, Plumb, 2014

Sculpture, Form Foam, 2016

Choose one of the works above and analyse:

  • Describe the work.
  • What technologies, tools and materials were used to create the device/ animation work?
  • How has the work interpret or make use of the optical illusion to create apparent motion?
  • How does the work engage with the audience? Does the audience interact with the device or animation work in some way?

Exercise: Build a Phenakistoscope or Zoetrope

Using the equipment available in class, create an animation work. Consider the physical form of animation.   For example, zoetropes can use drawings on a flat strip or they can accommodate 3-dimensional objects. A phenakistoscope animates drawings or images on a flat disc but the surface itself can create an illusion of depth. Will you use slits, strobe light, or the camera shutter to create the optional illusion? You can use drawings, photographs, computer graphics, objects or other forms to create your animation. Experiment with different designs and adapt them in a way that will work for you. Document your process.

The Public Domain Review (

You may find this lecture by artist Toshio Iwai interesting, particularly from 33:12 when he discusses his approach to re-create and re-interpret phenakistiscope and other optical toys.

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