Newly Digitized ‘Phenakistoscope’ Animations That Pre-Date GIFs by Over 150 Years

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Courtesy the Richard Balzer Collection

Since first stumbling onto an early type of image projector called a magic lantern over 40 years ago, Richard Balzer became instantly obsessed with early optical devices, from camera obscuras and praxinoscopes to anamorphic mirrors and zoetropes. Based in New York, Balzer has collected thousands of obscure and unusual devices such as phenakistoscopes, one of the first tools for achieving live animation.

The phenakistoscope relies on a disc with sequential illustrations to create looping animations when viewed through small slits in a mirror, producing an effect not unlike the GIFs of today. These bizarre, psychedelic, and frequently morbid scenes (people eating other people seemed to a popular motif) were produced in great volumes across Europe in the early to mid 19th century. Balzer and his assistant Brian Duffy have been digitizing and animating these discs and sharing the results on Tubmlr since 2012 (previously). Seen here is just a sampling of their efforts over the last year or so, but you can see plenty more here.

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An early Phenakistoscope design

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Courtesy the Richard Balzer Collection

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Courtesy the Richard Balzer Collection

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Courtesy the Richard Balzer Collection

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Courtesy the Richard Balzer Collection

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Courtesy the Richard Balzer Collection

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Courtesy the Richard Balzer Collection

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