Here’s an old-school motion picture machine you can 3D print at home

Cool tech isn’t always about inventing something new. Sometimes it’s about re-creating the wheel, or, that is, the zoetrope.

Before there was there was modern film, Victorian animators used spinning displays called zoetropes to give the illusion of images in action. Film eventually became the more popular format for motion pictures, but zoetropes retained a sort of cult following and esteem among animation circles.

A device called 4-Mation is now putting a modern twist on the Victorian device. Whereas the classic design relied on 2D images, kind of like a flip book, 4-Mation uses 3D objects and strobing lights to create dynamic visuals. (Note: the strobes aren’t shown in the video above.)

“Zoetropes are the original GIFs,” Kevin Holmes, one of the 4-Mation creators, told Digital Trends. “3D Zoetropes take it to the next level, animating solid, 3D objects instead of paper cartoons. They are real-time stop-motion animation machines.”

Holmes and his colleagues recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for 4-Mation, offering four different animations, including a leapfrog, Lego/Marvel Comics, and underwater, fish-eats-fish scenario. Their target market is parents and educators with an interest in STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art, and math) fields and access to 3D printers. The Kickstarter campaign comes in a few different tiers, which will depend on a backer’s comfort with DIY.

At the lowest tier (about $33) backers are given just the basics and expected to build their own strobe machine and carousel. The next tier (around $200) includes everything except the frame and an animation, both of which can be downloaded and laser cut or printed. There are a few more tiers, each coming with added components. At the top (about $580) backers get everything they need (plus walnut finish), packed and flat-packed and ready to be assembled. As always, we offer words of caution when it comes to backing crowdfunding campaigns.

One of 4-Mation’s most interesting features is what Holmes calls “animation multiplexing,” which allows the device to depict a 72-frame “story” in a 20-frame loop, by letting the story develop in multiple segments.

“Basically we’re telling multiple versions of the same animation story simultaneously, and this allows us to fit a three-second story inside a one-second loop,” Holmes explained. “Like the others, the fish animation is a 20-frame loop, but if you watch the full story of the fish emerging from the clam, eating the fish in front and then being eaten itself, it takes more than three loops (or, precisely 72 frames) to watch.”

Still confused? Holmes and his team created a little video to help.

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