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Long before the advent of cinema, the use of computer-generated imagery, or the founding of DreamWorks Animation, static images were brought to life through a variety of devices.

Objects on display

To coincide with DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition, a small display of optical toys and devices are on display in the Gandel Atrium, revealing the broader history of animation and cinema.

Part of the Hans Wetzel collection, these devices range from early lantern projectors to philosophical toys and motion picture viewers. They represent some of the earliest forms of animation — in the dancing patterns of the mechanised lantern slides, and spinning mirrors of the praxinoscope we experience the beginning of the animated form and the spirit of innovation upon which motion picture and animation are based.

Magical performances

Mahogany (?) lamphousing with brass stage and draw tube and modified chimney/cowl mounted on mahogany (?) base. Single rack and pinion lens. Hinged side door with sighthole. Fixed condenser. Fixed modified illuminan. - click to view larger image
Magic lantern projector

The magic lantern is an early image projector using hand-painted, printed or photographic pictures on glass, a light source and a lens. Although first invented in the 17th century, it enjoyed greatest popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries as a form of entertainment and for educational lectures.

During magic lantern performances slides were animated using a variety of mechanisms including slipping glass, pulleys, rack and pinions and levers. Amongst the most popular mechanical or animated slides were chromatropes. They created dazzling effects similar to those of a kaleidoscope by combining two richly patterned glass discs that rotate in opposite directions using a rackwork system.

Chromatrope 00:20

The kaleidoscopic effect of a chromatrope made between 1875–1883 by W C Hughes. National Museum of Australia

Spinning mirrors

The praxinoscope was one of many philosophical toys invented in the 19th century to explore and demonstrate emerging theories about how the eye receives and processes visual information. It consists of an outside cylinder where a strip of successive images are inserted. As the cylinder rotates, the images are reflected in the stationary mirrors in the centre, revealing a single image in motion.

Praxinoscope 00:13

A video of a replica praxinoscope made by Hans Wetzel in 1979. National Museum of Australia

First developed by French inventor Charles-Emile Reynaud in 1877, the praxinoscope was a refinement of the earlier phenakistoscope and zoetrope that illustrated the persistence of vision phenomenon, a theory on how we perceive motion effects. This illusion works because the eye retains an impression of an image after it’s passed from the field of vision.

Later variations of this device include the elaborate Praxinoscope Theatre and Théâtre Optique. The praxinoscope made a return in the 1950s when it was reimagined through the Red Raven Movie Records for new audiences.

Mechanical amusements

A mutoscope flip-book, coin-operated viewer, arched shaped door and reel. - click to view larger image

The mutoscope was a later invention, first appearing in the 1890s and patented by Herman Casler in 1894. A motion picture viewing device, it operated on the same principle as one of the earliest and simplest animation devices, the flip-book or kineograph.

Instead of images mounted in a booklet, 700–800 reflective prints were collated on a reel that when turned with a hand-crank, gave the appearance of a single successive picture.

With the development of cinema projection the mutoscope fell out of popularity. However, it remained a staple at arcades and was still manufactured until the 1940s.

These items and more are on display in the Gandel Atrium until 2 February 2020.

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