Written By:

What is a Zoopraxinoscope & How Was it Used in Filmmaking?

The zoopraxinoscope is an early animation device that was created by English photographer Eadweard James Muybridge for the purpose of capturing the movement of animals. The term, “Zoo” + “Praxiscope” directly references the zoo, a common place for humans to visit and learn about animals of varied shapes, sizes, and genres. Zoopraxinoscope is a term which may be used in place of the word, “zoopraxiscope,” but what is it exactly?

camera crew filming on red camera

What is a Zoopraxiscope?

A device that was used in early animation, the zoopraxiscope was originally called the zoographiscope. And was later changed to the zoogyroscope.

Before it would ultimately be called the zoopraxiscope. This device was considered a predecessor to a film projector as it was used to display animated images. 

It used a series of glass disks that had images painted onto them to project them.

How Does the Zoopraxiscope Work?

The zoopraxinoscope which was created in 1879 by photographer Eadweard Muybridge, could project chronophotographic pictures in motion.

To project the images, the projector utilized a series of 16” glass disks that were hand painted in sequences.

Disks would later be reduced in size to 12” although they provided a very similar design style otherwise. 


These painted disks included outlines, fully painted elements, and a variety of other imaginary elements. Which allowed artists to create a variety of combinations.

Which could be posed in different positions and otherwise construed so as to create the desired visual patterns. 

The disks were later fed into a projector that utilized a hand crank to move the machine. So that the disks would slide across the light apparatus to illuminate and project.

Early Stop Motion

Some would say that the Zoopraxinoscope or Zoopraxiscope is actually early stop motion film. In fact, the images did use a form of stop motion.

Albeit a completely different format of filmmaking and animation from what you might be used to seeing and experiencing in the studio or on the big screen today.

Since the first movie projectors in 1879, the zoopraxiscope which projected images that were painted on rotating glass.

Stop motion animation and other forms of animation have certainly come a long way.

In Summary

Animation is quite a bit more complex now than it was back in the 1800s when the Zoopraxiscope was introduced to the world by Eadweard Muybridge.

But if it were not for the early engineering and artistic abilities of people like Muybridge we wouldn’t have amazing opportunities to create powerfully realistic.

And amazingly surreal images, animations, and other works in film like we do today.