Prototyping 0

The Arrotino

The Arrotino (knife-sharpener in Italian) is the culmination of an extensive project into motion, light and kinetic installations; the centrepiece of Han Yang’s 2012 solo art exhibition at the List Art Center in Providence, Rhode Island.

1) The Inspiration

The zoetrope is a device that produces the illusion of motion from a rapid succession of static pictures. The pictures forming the animation are of a knife-sharpener in Rome expertly working his motorcycle-mounted work station, singing a traditional Roman song as he cycles the pedals to rotate the grinding stone. The goal is to build a machine-operated zoetrope, with a flashing strobe light and rotating pictures to create the animation of the knife-sharpener in fluid motion.

2) Proof of Concept

The Arrotino was originally tested on an old record player, creating a slotted cylindrical box with the pictures inserted inside for a traditional zoetrope. This allowed for a rapid proof of concept that the pictures would create a smooth, infinite animation loop.


3) First Iteration

The first model was a hand-powered zoetrope, using a bicycle mounted on its handlebars. A Styrofoam wheel with the picture strip was attached to the rear bicycle wheel, covered by a cardboard and duct tape box to create an enclosure with a viewing port. The viewer would take a seat and rotate the bicycle pedal with their hands. The flashing strobe light attached to the base of the bicycle would create the animation effect when the viewer spins the animation wheel at an optimum speed, in sync with the flashing light.


4) Mechanical Prototype

The form of the mechanical Arrotino was digitally created and a single, wooden circular base was cut to size. The animation of the mechanical Arrotino was tested using the wooden circular base, 5mm acrylic film, a Lazy Susan turntable and A4 prints of the pictures. Once the optimum rotation per minute of the zoetrope was found, a suitable machine was sourced to power up to three zoetropes, with the ability to downstep the number of rotations using alternating cone pulley drives and belts. A series of prototypes were built to create rigid wooden supports for the rotating zoetropes, as well as supporting the various belts and pulleys to slow down the rotation from drill press to zoetrope.


5) Assembling the Prototype

With the support frames and pulley system in place, three zoetrope bases were cut, mounted and attached to the machine. A wall with three viewing ports was quickly constructed using giant-sized Lego, wood and felt cloth to test optimal angles for viewing the animations and the tactile experience of peering into the box to find out more about the inner workings.

6) Refining  & Automating

Upon further testing and feedback, it was decided that cutting down to two zoetropes allowed for the smoothest and most reliable animation. An upgraded pulley system slowed the rotation even more and provided greater stability between each component. This refinement created a new opportunity to make the zoetrope fully automated, using a motion sensor (commonly used for outdoor lighting) to automatically turn on the strobe light and drill press when a viewer enters the room.

An enclosure was created using a wooden frame, panels of insulating Styrofoam walls, duct tape and black spray paint to cover the entire system, with two viewing ports for the rotating animations. The enclosure became the ‘big, black box’¬†measuring 4 ft x 24 ft x 11 ft in size. The flashing strobe lights provide the animation effects for the zoetrope while illuminating the room, which is triggered by a motion sensor so that it turns on only when a viewer enters the room that drew visitors in to check out the curious structure, suddenly whirring and flashing to life as they get close enough.




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