Make Your Photos Move with a Thaumatrope!

Extra photos for bloggers: 1, 2, 3

Thauma-what? Sounds Greek to us…

Well, opa! it is. “Thauma” is Greek for magic, and “trope” means something that turns. So a thaumatrope is a magical turning object.

Now put some photography into the mix, and you get a magical turning animated object!

Yeah, you read right—animated!! Thaumatropes are an easy and fun way to create a simple animation without a whole lotta effort.

No need for shiny high-tech tools, it’s hand-made magic for the DIY-inclined.

(EXTRA BONUS!: The added joy of yelling “MAGIC” every time you take your thaumatrope for a spin.)

Make a Photo Thaumatrope

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Why It’s So Magical & Fun

“Magical? Animated? How does it all work??” you say. Well, let us enlighten you, dear fellow reader!

Thaumatropes were Victorian-era toys whose magic lies in a visual illusion known as the persistence of vision. The most common thaumatrope features an illustration of a bird on one side and a cage on the other.

When spun, the afterimage of a bird in a cage appears—the result of persistence of vision. Everybody “oooo” and “ahhhh!” now!

You also get to play movie director when you’re thinking of scenes to animate and making them happen! This part is just as fun as making the thaumatropes themselves.

Make the Magic Happen With:

  • Brilliant ideas to animate!
  • A camera
  • A tripod and/or friend
  • Any needed props for your idea: a friend, stuffed creature, costumes, etc.
  • Adobe Photoshop or a similar program
  • A printer
  • Printable sticker paper, inkjet or laser kind, depending on your printer
  • X-Acto knife
  • Glue stick
  • 2 blank 3×5 index cards
  • A single hole puncher
  • 2 long rubber bands

STEP 1: Plan & Snap


Figure out a scenario you can “animate” in two “frames.” The key word here is simple—don’t try to do too much.

For this tutorial we decided to animate some magic—the good ol’ hat trick way.

You can shoot your scene all in one photo if it’s possible; we did ours in two separate photos since our Domo figure was too heavy to be able to be held in the hat (his diet isn’t working out so well…).

Once you have your ideas and any necessary props, snap away!

Note: You don’t have to shoot against a plain background, but it will make it easier for you in Step 4 when you cut out your images.

Some ideas you can try:

  • You + lightbulb = animated idea!
  • You + significant other + holding hands/kissing = animated love!
  • You faking a punch + a friend faking a hit = animated fight!

STEP 2: Scale ‘er Down


Open up the photos you just took in Photoshop or any other similar photo editing program.

First, make sure your photo is set at a resolution of 300 pixels/inch. This will ensure that your photos will print out nice and clear.

Then, scale down your photo so that the it’ll fit on a 3×5 index card.

Make sure if you’re using two separate photos (like us), that they’re in relative scale to each other since they’ll be interacting with each other. In our case, Domo needs to be the right size to magically appear—and fit—in the hat.

STEP 3: Initiating Print Sequence

beforePrint out the edited photos on the sticker paper. We printed out extras just in case.

Do a little happy dance while it prints. Be careful not to get too carried away and trip over the printer cord.

STEP 4: Cut It Out! The Photos, We Mean


Use an X-acto knife to cut out the elements of the photo you’d like to animate.

Please be careful when using sharp, pointy objects like the X-acto knife! You can stick with its cousin, Scissors, if you prefer.

STEP 5: Get Your Cut-Outs In Position


Here’s the slightly tricky part: you’re going to need to make sure your cut-out images are placed in the right position on the separate index cards to make sure they interact correctly when you later spin the them.

You can lightly mark where one of the cut-outs will be and just eyeball where the other one would go.

STEP 6: Stick & Glue

beforeOnce you’ve figured out where you’re placing your cut-outs, peel off the backs of the sticker paper and stick ‘em on the index cards.

Then, using the glue stick, paste the two index cards together. Make sure one side is glued upside down from the other side.

The two photos should now be stuck back to back, one facing up, one facing down.

STEP 7: Hole Punch, Hole Punch It Real Good


When you’ve got your index cards glued together make a single hole punch on each short side of the combined card.

STEP 8: Loop Da Loop


Loop the rubber bands through the holes you made.

Do this by pulling one end of the rubber band through the hole and pulling that end through the other open end of the rubber band.

Tighten to secure the rubber bands on the card.

STEP 9: Oh, Oh, Oh, It’s Magic, Ya Know


Alright, you ready for some magic?

Hold your thaumatrope with both hands by the rubber bands, yell “ACTION!” and spin that baby to see the magic happen!

Opa! Your Victorian ancestors would be so proud of you!! Bonus points plus street cred if you rock these toys while hanging out in a historical Victorian neighborhood!

Take Your Thaumatrope To Infinity & Beyond

  • Incorporate some text in your scene (like we did above) and create an “interactive” message thaumatrope!
  • Thaumatropes can be any spinnable shape you want—rectangle, square, circle. Feel free to experiment and go shape-crazy!
  • Instead of spinning on a rubber band or string, you can also tape or glue the two sides to a stick and turn it with your palms.
  • Check out some old school, vintage thaumatropes here­.
  • Make thaumatropes as cool invites to events! For example, thaumatrope of you + b’day hat = epic birthday party invite!