April 02, 2009


Gallop! A Scanimation Picture Book. By Rufus Butler Seder. Workman. $12.95.

Swing! A Scanimation Picture Book. By Rufus Butler Seder. Workman. $12.95.

Gallop! Cards: 8 Scanimation Gift Cards. By Rufus Butler Seder. Workman. $16.

     Words such as “zoopraxiscope” and “kinetoscope” may have little meaning at the modern multiplex, but without them, today’s films would not have evolved as they did. The zoopraxiscope, created by photographer Eadweard Muybridge, projected images that were drawn in sequence around the edge of a glass disc. This produced the illusion of motion – that is, a movie. The kinetoscope, developed by Thomas Edison after he saw the zoopraxiscope and subsequently met with Muybridge, moved perforated film of sequential images across a light source equipped with a high-speed shutter – again, creating the illusion of motion, although not for projection but for one person at a time to see through a peephole (this led to the once-infamous, risqué “peep shows”). These 19th-century inventions were marvels in their day, and now there is a modern successor that is a marvel in itself: Rufus Butler Seder’s Scanimation. It is a patented process that makes animals, people and objects seem to move, using no special lighting or electricity. Seder developed it after creating a design called Lifetiles for museums and other public places two decades ago. Lifetiles are optical glass-tiled murals that move or change when a viewer walks or rides by. The connection with the zoopraxiscope is clear, as is the connection of Scanimation with the kinetoscope. But if the most fascinating thing about Seder’s newest creation is its technology, the most important thing about it is its sheer creativity. For Scanimation has made it possible to create two absolutely wonderful books for Workman – plus a set of cards based on one of the books.

     What you see when you turn to a page of Gallop! or Swing! is an activity in progress. In Gallop! a horse gallops, a rooster struts, an eagle soars, a chimp swings from branch to branch, and other animals go about their motion-filled lives as well – each displayed on a right-hand page that consists of black vertical stripes with an accurate rendition of the animal portrayed in black across the stripes. Moving the page, or moving the left-hand page while leaving the right-hand one stationary, alters the incident light on the Scanimation, creating what seems to be left-to-right motion. In Swing! a batter hits a ball – apparently right at you, in an especially impressive bit of design. On other pages, a child rides by on a bike, another turns a cartwheel, still another twirls on ice skates – and so on. These are short but immensely involving books that will fascinate young readers again and again as they try to figure out how the Scanimation works. The books’ weakness is their text, which is made up of questions and onomatopoeic responses: “Can you soar like an eagle? Whoosh-whoosh-glide!” “Can you run a relay race? Zip! Zoop! Zoom!” There is nothing especially wrong with the writing, but there is nothing especially creative about it, either – particularly in contrast to the amazing illustrations. But no one will buy these books for the words, and no one should.

     Kids (and parents) who want to share Seder’s remarkable work with others will enjoy Gallop! Cards, which includes eight cards – two each of four designs from Gallop! The cards are blank inside, but kids can customize them for any occasion, either on their own or by using the two enclosed sticker sheets, which offer hearts and stars and other decorations as well as brightly colored greetings: “Happy Birthday,” “Congratulations” and “Thinking of You.” The four animals on the cards are a galloping horse, running dog, springing cat and soaring eagle – each of them a truly remarkable illustration to discover upon opening a greeting card. With many ordinary store-bought cards now costing $3, $4 or more, the set of Gallop! Cards at $2 each is even a bargain. Seder’s work is simply extraordinary – and if your kids really do want to understand something of the underlying technology, by all means start them on the road toward discovering the wonders of Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope and Edison’s kinetoscope.

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