What is Thaumatrope Animation?

What is Thaumatrope Animation?

The thaumatrope, a two-sided disc with images on each side that is attached to two strings. Which are then quickly twirled to produce the illusion of both pictures becoming one, became a popular toy in the 19th century. The same scientific methods that are used to form the thaumatrope are used by artists to produce thaumatrope animation. Which relies on persistence of vision to elicit the optical illusion of movement or other animated actions.

stop motion animation

What is a Thaumatrope?

Animation has certainly come a long way since the beginning of hand-drawn films and even before there was film. Early hand-drawn animated films, like the zoetrope?

They prove that ideas on how to deliver content which relied on the persistence of vision can go much farther back than the scientific understanding of such actually do.

Before film was invented, various devices would be used to exhibit motion despite a lack of technology to deliver motion on a screen. 

Optical Illusion of Motion

For instance, the thaumatrope represents one of the earliest means of producing the optical illusion of motion between two images.

The thaumatrope was a toy popularized during the Victorian Era. And represents some of the earliest demonstrations as to the idea of “persistence of vision.” 

The two-sided disc which could be held at the ends with string had an image on each side. 

When the strings were twirled so that the disc would spin, the images on both sides would superimpose into a single image.


Although the thaumatrope was not a true connection to the illusion of motion, it gave way to the next toy that would actually create the true illusion of movement.

The phenakistoscope was the first true toy to deliver the optical illusion of movement based on persistence of vision and would ultimately become incredibly popular. 

What is Thaumatrope Animation?

Thaumatrope animation uses the persistence of vision to create an optical illusion that causes two images to superimpose as one.

Thaumatropes represent some of the earliest connections to animation that we have. And set the stage for future stop motion animation films.

Thaumatrope animation works on the principle of persistence of vision and causes the eye’s to retain both images from the disc despite it being flipped back and forth rapidly.

The result is early thaumatrope toys could be described as being akin to the quick flashes that occur when a film scrolls from one picture to the next.

In Summary

Thaumatropes thus form the basis of animation. Which is now used in the production of a variety of films and videos. Dating back to 1826, and representing one of the earliest motion toys.

Thaumatrope animation may even go back further in history.  Since the creation of early thaumatropes, a variety of other animation techniques have been devised.

Based on the science of persistence of vision. Which is a visual phenomenon exhibited in those early toys nearly 200 years ago!

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