Interactive Installation | Union Square in Motion | MTA Arts for Transit

A continuation of a spring collaboration studio, 3 Parsons’ students, 3 Parsons’ Alumni, and New York City’s Submedia LLC Advertising have created an Interactive Installation for the MTA’s Arts for Transit Program in Union Square, NYC.
Union Square in Motion is an Interactive Installation and Public Intervention comprised of two digital lenticular zoetropes. They are a momentary distraction from the hustle and bustle of one the busiest commuter locations in New York City. 34,730,692 people rode through the station last year.The goal of this installation is to give these riders a break, making the experience a little more interesting and enjoyable.
I’m very proud and excited to have been invited to help make this installation happen.

On September 17th 2011 our final Lenticular Zoetrope was installed in the Union Square Subway Station in New York City as part of the MTA’s Art in Transit Program.



Monday’s opening saw some press for Union Square in Motion. Here are some links, starting with those who visited the installation or contacted us directly

From those involved with the project, the MTA Arts for Transit and Parsons

Anezka Sebek
Joshua Spodek

Jeanne Kelly
Hilal Koyuncu
Rose Maison
Umut Ozover
Josefina Santos
Jaqi Vigil

Have a look at some of the test animations along with some footage of the monitors and lenses loosely assembled for review.


To truly understand how zoetropes work you have to just make one or two.   (or twenty)

I started with a simple copypaper prototype fashioned after Josh Spodek’s small plastic example. Not so successfully though; the material was too flimsy and there was no smooth way to spin it quickly.  The breakdown of space and time however did work. The slots, although being slightly various in width, seem to work well. Ideally I think they should be completely uniform. So, by the end of class it seemed to be just a matter of better materials and better images.

On my subway ride home I began to think about how analogous zoetropes are to animated gifs, each containing very few frames and usually viewed in the loop.  Although the two mediums are vastly different, the images and optical effects they create are very similar.

The example Josh showed us, and the one I created in class after that (the first image above/with new and improved dots),  both had 12 images and 12 slits between them. I knew that a few of my favorite gifs also have only 12 frames. I decided to rotoscope one, print the images and use them to test the next zoetrope construction.  Some of you will recognize it. If not, then go to I Am Not An Artist to check out a few other little gems along with the original of the one above.

I have to say that usually when I’m learning a new technology, medium or skill I try to focus on learning just that. Creativity, for me  at least, can sometimes get in the way of  learning the left brain stuff. So I try to stick with something simple in concept, that way I’m less likely to get distracted by being creative. I find this method works best for me. Once I know and understand the technology then I can go crazy in the creative department, no holds barred.


Next up …

Muybridge’s Galloping Horse.
I chose this series of stills to also test the zoetrope.  It’s a reference I’m familiar with and I know that it works as an animation in several formats. So my reasoning goes: if these images don’t work then it will mean that it is the fault of the mechanism more than likely, not due to poor rotoscoping or poor animation on my part. This makes a good measure against the machine.


Using the lazy susan that serves as my spice rack from my kitchen cabinet as the spinning mechanism, I could concentrate on the aspects of the outside cylinder: deciding on the slats, how many I would need, and how wide each opening needed to be. I use  black foam core I had on hand to construct the outer cylinder.

Because foamcore can’t be bent into a smooth circle I instead cut “planks” and evenly spaced them around a circumference of the lazy susan.  I had to create a way to keep the “planks” together at the top however; they had a tendency to spread open as soon as the lazy susan was spun. Again I used materials I found on hand, straightening out paperclips and punching them through the slats to attach to an inner ring at the top.

This solution caused its own problems,  blocking out most of the light needed to see the animation.  I attempted different forms of lighting to compensate for this “ceiling” as you can see in the video below but nothing was quite successful enough.

Another thing I discovered in constructing this first zoetrope was the slats had to be closed when the images were. Meaning no light should be allowed to breakthrough between the images. As you can see in the video, what your eye is most drawn to is the flash of light coming through the back of the zoetrope.  this is easily fixed by wrapping the outside in a sheet of black paper. For my next construction I will simply only cut the slots halfway down.


A concentric zoetrope is essentially a cylinder within a  cylinder. The inner cylinder consists of images facing outward. The outer cylinder is solid except for small slits cut in evenly spaced increments around its circumference, like murder holes in the siege tower. These slits are what allow you to not just see the images on the inner cylinder, but they help to create the illusion animation.

For the second construction I needed to improve on the construction. I used much more flexible material.  I also enclosed the gaps along the bottom to create a solid backdrop in case I might want to use this for a standard zoetrope in the future.

The inner cylinder is supported by pressure.  I used the same images as in the first zoetrope for the reasons I stated in the first post, I want to concentrate on the mechanics. I recalculated the size of these images to fit the smaller cylinder and printed them out on the plotter. After taping the images into shape I measured the circumference of this new cylinder and cut to precise circles from foamcore to hold the cylinder rigid.


What I found to be as crucial in a concentric search rope as in the regular ones is lighting. Whereas the first one I made did not have enough light duty to its solid ceiling the second one seemed to have first have to much. Again I found that it was crucial not to have the outside of the mechanism lit.

I think the second one was pretty successful after watching the video and that doesn’t really do the piece justice. I really do think a lot of it is the lighting. And I am going to try and make the Tron face.

Also, here are a few of the “animation” from the Museum of the Moving Image.


For creation of our first linear zoetrope’s the Submedia was arranged into teams of three and four.  I’m in a team of three: Myself, Jeanne Kelly and two other fantastic ladies: Lea Faminiano, a 1st year MFADT with a background in fine art and digital media, and Brianna Bowers.

For the first assignment there are several aspects to the project that need to be completed. As a group we decided to complete them in the following order  so that each action supports the next, also dividing the responsibilities among us as follows.

* Design of the Eletrical Components – Lea

We decided that the design of the electrical components had to be figured out first. The main reasoning behind this is the same that Josh gave during class, that lighting comes in standard sizes. Also, our zoetrope must to be  6 or 8 feet long. Once we’ve designed the lights to fit this length we can begin to draw up plans for the box with more or less accurate measurements.

* Design of the Box – Brianne

The box design will be based on the measurements needed to contain the lights. Adjustments in height, or distance between that two rows of lights from top to bottom, can be achieved by using slots rather than holes to attach the lights in the back of the box. The length of the lights, and therefore the box, can not be adjustable. The links must remain a very fixed measurement. Once the outside dimensions have been cleared out the length and distance between the slots and therefore the images for the animation, can be mapped out.

* Two Animations – Jeanne
A crucial component in the animation is how many frames will be involved. This is dictated by the box. Although some tweening can be used and images can be removed, in my opinion, the best practice would be to know from the start how many images are needed to smoothly get from point A to point B. Unfortunately the time constraints don’t quite allow for this luxury. So I am basing my animation so far on the example that Josh brought to class. I believe in the case of a linear zoetrope it may be better to have to many frames and need to remove some, then to not have enough. Larger jumps and movement may be more easily seen versus adding more subtle gestures to the animation. Because of this I am adding a few extra frames to my first animation creating a total of 100 images.


After getting the “okay” from my team members I am basing the first animation on my thesis project. I feel I produce much better work when the subject is always at the forefront of my thoughts, which thesis definitely is for me. As gruesome as it may be to some I’ve decided that a facial reconstruction, from skull to skin, might be an interesting animation for a linear zoetrope. I’m still giving the second animations some thought, but I am leaning towards an animation of the fall and death of “The Rope Walker Zini”. The fact that the animation for a linear zoetrope does not need to loop lends itself well to fatal endings.

I’ve also been looking a lot at Francoise Gamma. (BEWARE! his site will bog down even the best computers, so if you’re not working with an advanced browser … you’ve been warned.)

He is dedecated to the animated *gif like no other. Hi gifs run from 30 to 128 frames, fo a good benchmark for a linerar zoetrope, although his style is too subtle maybe.

* Create Budget – Ideal and Lowcost – Everyone

At the same time we are also creating a spreadsheet with all of the descriptions and prices for the various components we may use. We will all continue to have access to the spreadsheet allowing us to add and remove items as each of us comes across them. This will allow us to comparison shop as we build.  And as we we pick and choose what will actually go into this piece, we can begin to see what our true budget is versus its possibilities. Attaching links in the spreadsheet to online content also allows us to share information quickly and easily from one place. With a spreadsheet we should be able to quickly and easily create several options with various price points for construction.

I decided to take photos photo’s of a friend pretending to be walking on a tight rope with the umbrella. It’s good thing he wasn’t because he would have more sertaily fallen.

I split the shots and set them up in layers in photoshop. From Josh’s example of his friends dog I decided that the walker moving from the far background to the foreground might be a visually interesting affect. I marked the frame steps and positioned the closest foot on each step.

A layer was created for each tracing and then it was just a matter of getting to work. I traced each frame and rearanged the layers once everthing was done.

I ran the frames through the 512 GIFanimator (found HERE) trying different delay times to mimic walking speed and such. I found the animation needed to be not just a two up as suggested but actually a 3 up worked even better.

After I got the flow working a little better I went back into photoshop to develop the color scheme. I want something fun for the content and something high contrast for the mechanics to work well, but I also loth primary color schemes. This is what I finally came up with:

The issue of blurry vs. sharp is also on my mind. I want to test half tones on the linear zoetrope, just to see what it does to the illusion. Will it make it blurry like we would expect, or will a half tone sharpen the image like a higher dpi might do? We shall see.

There is still a lot of work to be done on these (adding the rope, coloring them all in, sizing and position of each figure for a start) but I think they’ll work well when it’s all said and done.

Sketches of the last stand and box prototypes:

Video and images of our final two prototypes, the laser cut paper and the len and box model.

Grand tour all

Lenticular upstairs