HOW TO MAKE THE MOVIE WHEEL (phenakistiscope)

Back to Movie Wheel introduction page.
Back to sciencetoymaker main page.

Lots of patterns to choose from:

This is a rotating cube. The heavy lines make it easy to view. ROTATING CUBE PATTERN
This one is is of a bounding cat. it from a fantastic Howtoons page about making a related device, the zoetrope. You can just cut the slots the regular way--don't worry about cutting into the images. HOWTOONS CAT PATTERN
This one is a runner, also liberated from the Instructables Howtoons *** HOWTOONS RUNNER PATTERN
This is the classic running horse circa Eadweard Muybridge.*** RUNNING HORSE PATTERN
Shortcut to the original jumping movie wheel pattern, JUMPER PATTERN

Blank pattern, make your own movie!

UPDATE! I have a friend who is a dedicated teacher in Germany named Thomas Buchwald. He makes amazing projects with his students and he has helped me improve several science toymaker projects, including this one. I told Thomas that many people, when they started using the movie wheel, the circle would rub against their hand. That stopped it too soon. In less than a day he figured out what I still couldn't figure out for years--that simply gluing a piece of foam in the middle would keep the circle straight. So if you have trouble with the circle rubbing, copy what you see at the beginning of this video clip. Thanks Thomas, for filling in my blind spots!


The instructional video starts with a science road show where my strudents show elementary school kids science exhibits, including movie wheels and zoetropes. It's a technology that's over a century old, but it's an unworldly experience that the kids get a huge kick out of!

Then it's on to making your own movie wheel. It is simplequick and to make--only about a half hour. The kids at the YMCA after school program help me show you how. The pattern you will use is here

They glue the pattern onto the thin cardboard, rough-cut and fine-cut. Accurately cutting the notches is particularly important to making the movie wheel work.

They darkened between the notches for the same scientific reason the best window screens are dark colored: to absorb unproductive light that would otherwise reflect into their eyes and cause glare. A paper clip provides a way for the movie wheel to spin. But the spinning images are just a blur, unless...

There are some tricks to using the movie wheel. The darkened side faces toward you. You spin the wheel and the look through the notches into the mirror (you need good light, too). Almost magically the images seem to come alive. There is a way to get around the need for the mirror if you have two people with movie wheels. Finally the instructional video talks a little about peristence of motion, the principle that makes the movie wheel work...and movies and TV.

To get started making your own movie wheel patterns and see good examples of creative patterns, click here (no video instructions for this yet).

Click here for instructions for an even simpler "persistence of vision" toy, a Thaumatrope (not in instructional video format yet).

Click here for a streaming video I created about a behind-the-scenes look at a TV production crew making a PBS TV program.

Back to the movie wheel introduction page

Back to the sciencetoymaker home page.

Back to the science toymaker home page.






















The instructions below are not print friendly, sorry.


cereal box or poster board or oak tag

You'll need a piece of thin cardboard at least 7" (18 centimeters) square

tape, scissors, 2 coins, black magic marker, nail

The nail can be 1 1/2" or so long with a head (not a finish nail). A dark blue magic marker can be substituted if you don't have a black magic marker.


Bathroom mirrors work well because they are typically in well-lit areas, a factor which will give good results.

Make the movie wheel. Step 1

Rough cut and tape on pattern.

Click here and print out the PDF drawing.After you click the "Print" button on your browser, but before you click "ok" to actually print it, make sure that the "scale" is set to "none". Once printed, measure the distance between the lines of the "SCALE CHECK". They should be about 102mm (4") apart.

Or Click here and print out the .gif pattern. Some browsers--especially Netscape--change the scale and the size of the printed pattern. If the printout says something like, "Scaled-60%" try another browser. Also, the printout has a scale check. It says 2" line to line or 5 cm line to line. Make sure it's accurate.

Rough cut (bubble cut) out the circular movie wheel . Make 12 "tape doughnuts." These are pieces of tape connected end to end to make loops--sticky side out. Hold the non-print side of the pattern toward you a view against a bright light, so you can see the printed part on the other side. Place tape doughnuts just inside the edge of the circle, and between the 12 notches.





Step 2

Fine cut the cardboard circle and notches.

Stick the pattern onto poster board of cereal box cardboard. No folds in the cardboard should be within the pattern area (folds weaken the cardboard). Fine-cut the circle, then the notches. Cut very accurately on the notches. I cut the two sides, then twist it off.


Step 3

Darken and weight the non-print side

Fill in the space in between the notches with black magic marker. Dark blue or dark purple will also work to some extent.

Just as the best window screens (easiest to see through) are black, we darken in between the viewing notches to absorb reflected glare--counterproductive light that makes it hard to see well. Put down newspaper or something to keep magic marker from getting on the table.

Taping pennies on the wheel is optional, but their mass (similar to weight) makes the wheel spin longer once it's started spinning. Tape them on in pairs, exactly opposite each other so they balance, or else the wheel will wobble.

Step 4

Push the nail through the center and tape.

Young kids should not punch the hole. Punch the hole right in the middle of the circle, as indicated by where all the lines converge. It's a good idea to back up where the nail will go through with an old magazine. Not the table, and not your hand.

Put lots of tape on the end for safety and to keep the wheel on. Do not tape the disk to the nail. It must spin freely.

Try it out!

 The movie wheel is easy to use if you remember these points:

Since the narrow slots allow us to see through when we spin the wheel, we can only see through about 10% of the time. So the movie wheel might seem dark unless used in a well lit area. Bathroom mirrors are usually good. Holding your free hand over your eyes to shade them from glare further helps you see better.

For more activities you can do with your movie wheel and tips for creating your own movie, click here.



For explanations, activities and cool links related to visual perception click here or on the picture.

Back to the movie wheel introduction page.

Back to the science toymaker home page.

I'd like to know how this project goes for you. I'm happy to answer questions about it. Feedback from you is an important way for me to know what works and what needs clarification.
contact me