by littleBits

Published on April 23, 2014

A zoetrope is a spinning device that produces the illusion of motion. Powered by a DC motor, 30 3d-printed figures spin on a disc inside a dark box. As they spin, three bright LEDS pulse quickly, animating the static 3d-printed figures so that they appear to be walking.

You can find the 3d files for this project on Thingiverse and at Shapeways

Credits: Marenzelleria from Blender community, rbrodie from our community

How To Make It


Build the circuit: power + button + latch + branch. On one branch arm, connect the pulse module followed by 2 wires and 3 bright LEDs. On another branch arm, connect 2 wires and a DC motor.


Make figures that you want to animate. We used 30 frames from a 3d animation file we found on Blender’s tutorial page (http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Doc:2.4/Tutorials/Animation/BSoD/Character_Animation/Final_animation) and 3d printed them. You can download our model files, or make your own 3d animation files. If you don’t have a 3d printer, one option is to print our 3d files at Shapeways. If you don’t want to go the 3d-printing route, try creating figures using Lego or clay. Theoretically, your animation will be smoother when you have more frames, but due to the speed parameters on our pulse module, you will most likely want to stick with 24~32 frames (you will probably get about 12-16 fps of resolution with DC motor module).


Make a disc for your figures to sit on. Cut a 12” diameter circle out of black presentation board and mark the position where your models will sit around the circle. We set 30 models evenly around 360º, so we marked every 12º.


Put your models on the disc. It is critical that they stay in order (1st frame, 2nd frame, 3rd frame) so that your animation works properly.


Print out a DC motor stand and motor shaft connector with a 3d printer. This part is a modification of a file (littleBits DC motor mount) designed by our friend rbrodie. (http://littlebits.cc/projects/littlebits-dc-motor-mount)


Find or make a box big enough to fit the disc inside. We used black foam core, but a cardboard box will work just fine. If you do use a cardboard box, we suggest you paint the inside black and make sure no light leaks into the box from outside.


Place the DC motor in the motor mount and fix it to the center of the bottom of the box. Attach the bright LEDs to the ceiling of the box using gluedots. Then, position the rest of the circuit and connect all the modules.


Plug the motor shaft connector (which you 3d printed) onto the DC motor shaft and attach the disc with figures on it. You can use a strong tape to hold the disc in place. Check to make sure that no wires or other Bits modules interfere with the disc turning.


Cut peeping holes on the front side of the box.


We added legs and handles, but these parts are optional. Legs help you to peer in the box when it sits on a desk or a shelf, and the handles help you pick up and hold the box.


Run the zoetrope by pressing the button. Adjust the speed dial on the pulse module to find best setting for the motion of your animation (we ended up using the fastest setting).


Done! Enjoy the moving image!

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