Long before we had Disney animators and film projectors, we relied on a relatively simple invention called a zoetrope. It’s essentially a flipbook on a wheel. Countless frames spin round and round, but thanks to a small window, the viewer never sees more than one frame at a time. So just like a flipbook, the drawing appears to move.
HondaTrope, by DT for Honda’s appearance at the 2013 Sydney Festival, is an epic, digital supersizing of the traditional zoetrope. But rather than spin frames to simulate movement, HondaTrope spins the viewer and leaves the frames still.
“My brief from Honda was to create something that brought joy through clever thinking with technology—pretty much a creative technologists dream brief,” DT’s Tim Devine tells Co.Design. “I thought about it for a few days and then I woke up in the middle of the night with the idea that you could use the persistence-of-vision effect and a spinning cup to create a truly augmented reality.”
Participants sit in a teacup-esque spinning seat. And as they move faster and faster, a series of seemingly innocuous LEDs around them begin making shapes. These shapes are hidden in the fantastic refresh rates of LEDs, which blink at roughly 1000fps (or almost 50x the speed of traditional film animation). So the world melts away in a blur, and suddenly, viewers see a phantasmagoric garden floating around them.
“It’s a slow reveal, not an ON/OFF experience. You slowly enter it as you spin faster and slowly leave it as you slow down,” Devine explains. “When you are at speed, your body can’t move normally from the centrifugal force, and there is this neon garden popping out at you when normally everything should be a blur. It’s this juxtaposition that makes it really feel like you are on another planet with double gravity.”
Apparently, there was an “unexpected bonus” as well. When you stop spinning, your eyes will continue to see the garden for a bit. I imagine it must feel like the afterburn of a bright neon sign, so ingrained in your corneas that an imprint remains when you blink. What a cherry on top to the motion sickness that must be! All kidding aside, Zoetrope makes for a solid case study on reimagining an old technology as a newly interactive experience—one that you can’t merely duplicate with a free afternoon and a Netflix subscription.