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A phenakistoscope disc by Eadweard Muybridge (1893)
The phenakistoscope – a couple waltzing

The phenakistoscope (also spelled phenakistiscope or phenakitiscope) was an early animation device that used the persistence of vision principle to create an illusion of motion.


Although this principle had been recognized by the Greek mathematician Euclid and later in experiments by Newton, it was not until 1829 that this principle became firmly established by the Belgian Joseph Plateau.[1] Plateau planned it in 1829 and invented it in 1832. Later the same year the Austrian Simon von Stampfer invented the stroboscopic disk, a similar machine. A contemporary edition of Britannica says "The phenakistoscope or magic disc...was originally invented by Dr. Roget, and improved by M. Plateau, at Brussels, and Dr. Faraday."[2]


The phenakistoscope used a spinning disc attached vertically to a handle. Arrayed around the disc's center was a series of drawings showing phases of the animation, and cut through it was a series of equally spaced radial slits. The user would spin the disc and look through the moving slits at the disc's reflection in a mirror. The scanning of the slits across the reflected images kept them from simply blurring together, so that the user would see a rapid succession of images that appeared to be a single moving picture.

A variant of it had two discs, one with slits and one with pictures; this was slightly more unwieldy but needed no mirror. Unlike the zoetrope and its successors, the phenakistoscope could only practically be used by one person at a time. The phenakistoscope was only famous for about two years due to the changing of technology.


The first part of the term 'phenakistoscope' comes from the root Greek word φενακίζειν - phenakizein, meaning "to deceive" or "to cheat", as it deceives the eye by making the objects in the pictures appear to move.

Alternate names[edit]

Online sources sometimes refer to this invention as the Phantasmascope or the Phantascope.[3] However, Phantascope is also the name given to two different, later, projection-based moving picture devices.


The Special Honorary Joseph Plateau Award, a replica of Plateau's original phenakistiscope, is presented every year to a special guest of the Flanders International Film Festival whose achievements have earned a special and distinct place in the history of international film making.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM)
  2. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 8th edition, 1857, Edinburgh, volume XVI, p. 697.
  3. ^ [1]

External links[edit]