Make a DIY Zoetrope with Your Phone

Extra photos for bloggers: 1, 2, 3

Back when Zeppelins were zipping around and petticoats were all the rage, the zoetrope was the closest you could get to catching a movie.

If you suppose this little gizmo went out with the steam engine, think again.

Our DIY tutorial gives the zoetrope a 21st century makeover by using the panorama function of a phone.

Yes, with just a few shutter clicks and scissor snips you can create your very own stop motion movie machine.

Sound fun? Well full speed ahead on the zoetrope express!

Make a Zoetrope with Your Phone!

Why it’s Cool:

ingred-smThe zoetrope has the distinction of being the world’s first device to create motion pictures.

It was invented by the Chinese in 180 AD, making it the great great grandfather of the GIF.

Combining this millennia old device with a touch of cutting edge technology just gives us a smile that won’t quit.

Also, the zoetrope is a great way to show off your panorama skills and makes for a fun little coffee table accessory or Christmas tree ornament.

Check out the zoetrope we made on our phone in action!

Zoetrope in Action from Photojojo loves you on Vimeo.



  • Smartphone with panorama function
  • Cylindrical cardboard canister. A Quaker Oats container will do the trick.
  • Matte black spray paint
  • Scissors or an X-acto knife
  • Pencil
  • String
  • Ruler
  • A friend to pose for you

Step 1: Do the Panorama Dance

paint-smWe made our image strip with an iPhone and an app called Panorama which has more manual control than the built in app. Photaf is a good app for Android users.

Panorama works differently than the built in iPhone app. To use it snap your first shot and then sweep the camera to your right.

A ghostly overlay of your last pic will show up on the left of your screen. Line up this overlayed image with the edge of your next shot, and then hit the shutter.

By standing your subject smack dab in the middle of each frame and changing their movement slightly in each section of your panorama, you can create a stop motion effect when the images are viewed in your zoetrope.

For best results, try to keep lighting consistent, movements small, and a good amount of contrast between your subject and the background.

Step 2: Transfer your Treasure

paint-smNow that you’ve done the dance, it’s time to take your panorama across the great phone/computer divide.

No sweat though, just send your full sized panorama to your computer via email, or sync it with your computer’s photo manager.

Step 3: Size and Print

paint-smMy what lovely wallpaper your zoetrope has.

Open up your panorama in Photoshop or a similar editing program to resize it.

To find your zoetrope’s inside circumference, coil a piece of string around the inner wall of your cardboard cylinder and measure it with a ruler.

In Photoshop, go to Image > Image Size and under Document Size put the measurement you just took as the Width. Also, change the Resolution to 300 for printing.

You will need to cut your panorama in half to print it on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.

Create a new document in photoshop with 8.5 x 11 dimensions and a resolution of 300. Paste in your panorama, select half of it, then press ctrl-x and ctrl-v. Now drag one half under the other.

Print your image strip and congratulations, you just got a yellow belt in Photoshop.

Step 4: Deep Cuts

paint-smAlright Edward Scissorhands, let’s get choppin’.

This helpful article explains the zoetrope making process in great detail and provides some handy cutting guides.

Start by printing up the template, cutting it out, and taping it to your cardboard cylinder.

Cut off the top part of your cardboard container, making sure to leave enough room for your image strip and viewing slits.

Use your scissors or an X-acto knife to cut out the vertical slits on top for viewing holes.

When you’re done, your container should look like a little castle turret.

Step 5: All Together Now

paint-smAlright, let’s put those images in motion!

Bust out your black spray paint and give the outside walls of your zoetrope a quick coat. This will make your animation much easier to see.

Once the paint is dry, cut out your image strip, tape the two pieces together and place the long strip against the lower inside wall of you zoetrope.

Gently poke a pencil through the bottom of the zoetrope and twirl like mad! You can also place your zoetrope on a turntable, or whirl it on a CD spindle or lazy susan.

Watch the action through the spinning teeth and discover why the Chinese called the zoetrope “the pipe which makes fantasies appear.”

Take it Further