How to make phenakistoscopes

How to make phenakistoscopes


Firstly, if you were wondering how to pronounce ‘phenakistoscope’, Wiktionary (the free dictionary) helpfully uploaded an audio file from the Lingua Libre project demonstrating how to say this strange looking word

What is a phenakistoscope?

Invented in 1841 by Belgian physicist and mathematician, Joseph Plateau, phenakistoscopes were early animation devices and popular Victorian parlor toys. 

Widely regarded as one of the earliest forms of the moving image, and a precursor to modern filmmaking, phenakistoscopes create the illusion of movement through an optical phenomenon known as the persistence of vision.

Phenakistoscopes took the form of spinnable discs attached to a handle with illustrated animation sequences drawn on one side. Slits were cut around the edge or in the center of the disc allowing a viewer to look through and see the animation in a mirror when the disc was being spun.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Phenakistoscope examples

Much like modern day GIF animations, phenakistoscopes can only show short, looped sequences of continuous movement. 

How to make an animated phenakistoscope

While you could make a traditional, manually operated phenakistoscope with viewing slits and a handle, we think it is much more fun to digitize the experience to share with friends and family in the form of an animated video.

What you’ll need

  • Animation software such as HUE Animation or Stop Motion Studio.
  • A HUE camera.
  • A blank phenakistoscope template. 
  • Pens or pencils to draw your animation.
  • Scissors.
  • Some thick card or foam board.
  • A push pin/thumbtack.
  • Sticky putty to secure your cardboard or foam board to your desk.
  • An idea for your animation.


Step 1

Think of an idea for your animation. Before you start drawing directly on the template, it can help to sketch each frame on some scrap paper first to test out ideas and make sure everything will fit and animate properly. 

To help you plan your animation you can download our free storyboard template from our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Tip: The best type of animations for phenakistoscopes are short repeated or looped actions such as a horse galloping, an object rotating, or a morphing shape.

Step 2

Print the phenakistoscope template onto thin card or photo paper and carefully cut around the outer edge of the circle. 

Step 3

Once you have drawn your finished animation on the template, push a thumbtack through the center of the phenakistoscope into some thick card or foam board. Make sure the board is thick enough for the size of the thumbtack you are using. We doubled up two thin sheets of foam board and glued them together.  

Step 4

Secure the back of the card/foam board to your desk with some sticky putty at each corner. 

Step 5

Angle your camera down at the template and open your animation software. Use the focus wheel around your HUE camera’s lens to ensure the image is sharp.

Step 6

Capture a photo of your phenakistoscope. Rotate the phenakistoscope making sure to line up the next frame perfectly. Capture another photo, rotate and repeat until you have captured one image of every frame. 

Step 7

Select all the frames in your animation timeline. Duplicate the frames several times. This will make your final animation last longer.

Step 8

Export your final animation and share it with your friends and family.

Additional links and resources

For extra help, check out our tutorial video showing you how to animate a ‘Frogoscope‘ (a frog-themed phenakistoscope) with HUE Animation Studio, and Howcast’s ‘How to make a phenakistoscope’ video on YouTube.

If you own HUE Animation Studio, the complete stop motion kit for budding animators aged 7+, did you know that you already have access to ready-made, printable ‘Ratoscope’ phenakistoscope activity sheets? Check these instructions to learn how to download them now.

You can also visit our Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) store to download additional animation resources such as storyboard templates and illustrated backgrounds.

We’d love to see your phenakistoscope animations so please contact us by email or tag @HUEcameras on Instagram, Facebook or X (Twitter) with your creations. Happy animating, y’all!

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