Everyday moments make stories move…

What building a zoetrope can teach us about storytelling...

By: Clare Howdle,   2 minutes

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For ages now I’ve wanted to make a zoetrope. I’ve always loved the simplicity of them, the way you can bring miniature stories to life, breathing movement into moments with just a pencil, some card and some sticky tape.

So I had a go. I looked up how to make a zoetrope, went out and bought the bits and got to work.

I had grand ideas. I wanted to tell stories of broken bones and buried treasure, of giants rising from hill tops, of ships being taken on the high seas, of spaceships flying down city streets, of monsters hiding under beds. I was excited.

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I started at the beginning. I took a cardboard lid and attempted to cut a round hole in the centre. But my cardboard was corrugated and my knife blunt. The centre was hard to find and the hole was hard to cut. It wasn’t level. It wasn’t even.

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Challenges faced me when it came to the picture strip too. The card I’d bought wasn’t long enough. I couldn’t measure out equal spaces easily with a 30cm ruler.  I felt deflated before I’d even started to draw.

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So I decided to start basic. An opening door. That should be easy enough. But perspective got the better of me. Consistency got the better of me. Smudging ink got the better of me. I couldn’t even handle an opening door.

I was all set to give up. Still, I put it in the zoetrope and gave it a spin.


My door opened. My door closed. My door opened again. Sure it was rough around the edges and sure it wasn’t a masterpiece. But it was a story. A tiny story of what’s on the other side of the door. What’s out of reach and who’s doing opening and closing.

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I tried again. This time I did a flower growing. I used yellow in the petals as the flower grew, blossomed, shed its petals and shrivelled. Again, magic.

It made me realise that often it doesn’t matter how simple or every day a story feels, the magic can come in the means and method of telling it. Zoetropes aren’t about complex tales or complicated animations. They are about little moments of magic that happen in the every day. And they are about making those moments happen for yourself.

So in my eyes, despite the lack of monsters, pirates, giants or treasure, it was a success.

Right. I’m off to draw a girl smiling. Now that’s a story…

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Fancy giving it a go? Check out this WikiHow on making a zoetrope. Good luck!

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