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Animated Movement Before Celluloid


McLean's Optical Illusions or Panorama disc (1833)

Many early inventions paved the way to modern animation. One of the first devices to feature rapid "successive substitution" or a sense of motion within sequential pictures, is the Phenakistoscope. This early predecessor was invented in December 1932 by physicist Joseph Plateau, of Belgium—and almost simultaneously—in Austria by geometry professor Simon von Stampfer. The Phenakistoscope featured successive images placed across a disc with slots. The disc's slots would be matched to a device which rotated. The device holding the disc would be placed in front of a mirror and when spun, achieved the effects of motion. Joseph Plateau's first disc featured a pirouetting dancer.

The various cardboard discs were initially hand-colored by women artists and later commercially produced via various lithographic print processes. A highly popular novelty, the Phenakistisope could only be experienced by one viewer at a time, but many discs were quickly created and published throughout Europe under different names for this fascinating toy: The Fantascope, Stroboscope, Motoscope, Fantasmascope, The Laughingatus, The Magic Wheel, Moving Panorama, Wheel of Wonder, and Phenakistiscope all amassed great success.

By 1869, there were developments underway to project the moving images emanating from various disks in a Magic Lantern type of fashion. By 1870, Henry Renno Heyl debuted the Phasmatrope at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. Three projected disc subjects were featured on the program along with a voice actor declaring from behind the screen: "this art will rapidly develop into one of the greatest merit for instruction and enjoyment."


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