June 26, 2013

Beautiful Retro Hand-Animated Video Uses Old Zoetrope Stroboscope Technique

Produced by Italian director Virgilio Villoresi and illustrated by Virginia Mori, as a music video for John Mayer’s song ‘Submarine Test January 1967.’

Remember the animated GIF? Those simple but nifty digital images made from just a few frames displayed sequentially in an endless loop so that a character or critter seemed to be walking or waving or bouncing a ball? Well, the GIF had its forerunner in the technique used in this simple animated film, which utilizes the philosophy behind the Zoetrope, a 19th century toy. The zoetrope was small animation contraption that used a strip of drawings placed inside a drum that the viewer spun and watched through slits in an outer cylinder, The stop and start of the series of images made the objects seem to come to life. This illusion depended, like most motion picture, on persistence of vision

The hand-animated drawings in the Villoresi's video apply both stop motion and a stroboscopic transparency that moves back and forth across an image drawn with slight variations (a quill pen or an arm or leg appears at two angles) so that the figure appears to be animated, This is a technique once known as ombre cinema, based on the same technique as the Zoetrope. 

Persistence of vision is what we call a stroboscopic effect. If, when you spin the zoetrope, you were to look over the top of the drum at the drawings instead of through the slots all you would see would be a blur of motion. The illusion of cohesion would be gone. The slits of the zoetrope simulate flashes of light, creating a strobe/delay effect. The images you see in animation are interrupted by milliseconds of darkness that are make the illusion come to life. When we see different images close together like this our brains and our persistence of vision (the image still burned on the retina) create a relationship between them that says, "this image is moving."

Villoresi proves that sometimes an old technology can be new again. It is the mix of old technique (stroboscopic) with new (digital video, camera, internet, Vimeo) that makes this piece so engaging.

More of Villoresi's video can be viewed at http://www.virgiliovilloresi.com

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