Our Christmas [Card] Story; 2008

Final Animation Wheel Art

This year, our Holiday greeting cards were custom designed Early Cinema Phenakistoscopes, Motion Picture Illusion Toys {circa 1833}.

Before film, before cameras, inventors discovered that movement could be generated optically from a series of drawn static images. I've always been interested in early cinema and techniques of animation that can be made without electricity or even photography. I thought a Phenakistoscope would be an ideal holiday card, given our vintage toy theme from year to year.

*Viewing instructions that accompanied the wheel and spindle: Gently thread the paper image wheel, art facing outward, onto the wooden spindle included. View the little Elf Puppet dancing & juggling for you by spinning the wheel with one hand while looking through the blur of holes in the wheel from behind hold the spindle,(about a foot from your face) making sure the face of the wheel is well illuminated, up to any mirror.

The final animation was made in Adobe Photoshop from a scan of a paper elf puppet (our 2006 handmade cards). The art was printed on cardstock by a digital printing service overnight.

The amazing laser cutting was done by friend and reader Mark Fullerton of Precision Graphic Systems, Inc.. Mark took a great deal of care on this for me and turned the job around overnight, thus saving our Christmas. Thanks, Mark and Angela!

Crafting the Wheels
I started by downloading vintage Phenakistoscope wheels from the internet to understand how they worked. It was a thrill when I discovered the art actually did animate when the drawings were viewed from behind the wheel by a reflection into a mirror! I also found some tips for this sort of limited animation from a book I bought in New York years ago called, "Making 'Movies' Without a Camera"; by Lafe Locke. It was clear the animation needed to be made to be a perfect unending loop, for example.

An early great challenge of the project was creating my own dieline for the wheel and its precise circular series of holes without any ability to do math. (see lower left) I may be the only person right now who could create this in a page layout program that doesn't space and align items in a circle automatically.

Early attempts (on crazy tight timeline with the holiday approaching fast) were epic fails. The animations I initially made were way too subtle for a Phenakistoscope and I quickly learned that the action needed to be more simple and reduced in size in order to fit more "frames" on the wheel.

Building Wooden Spinning Spindles
(Photos will click through to larger versions on Flickr.)
I used store-bought miniature toy wheels and banister spindles. One stem on an end of each spindle needed to be sawn off and sanded smooth. Each part was them polished with only natural Eco-House pure Linseed primer oil and liquid Beeswax.

The colors of part sets needed to be matched up and then attached together with brass washers and decorative upholstery tacks, that were dotted with red oil-based paint pen dots on each center. Festive festive.

Getting Them Packaged and Out
(Photos will click through to larger versions on Flickr.)
I made 100 wooden spindles for recipients to spin their Phenakistoscopes on, running out of parts a couple times.

The project was so squeezed by time I literally spent a crucial day in my car waiting for the laser cut disks to arrive via FedEx so I could tie on a spindle and numbered instructional tag with a ribbon, tuck them into expandable cd mailers and dash them to the nearest late night
Post Office.

The first batch went out last Thursday to the people furthest away from Los Angeles. Two more large batches were shipped out on Friday and Saturday.

I've heard from people as far away as Hawaii but you may not have received yours yet, especially if in the super slow UK. Whenever it arrives to you I hope it finds you in good health and cheer.

It was a lot of fun to put the pretty sets into their envelopes. Paul and I were thrilled with this years' results and wish you all a merry holiday.

Here's how they look in action! (Photos will click through to larger versions on Flickr.)

(PS: If you are not on our Christmas card list, the printer over printed about 10 wheels, that are a hair off center in their laser cutting but still work. Let me know if you'd like a wheel and a tag mailed to you to check out in person.)

Merry Christmas to All!


  1. Anonymous2:33 AM

    I didn't realize you had made these. I thought they were store bought! They are so beautiful and mean a bit more knowing you hand crafted them. Thank you again! Proud owner of #53.


  2. I got mine!!! Fun fun fun!!!!

    Yuji, the really cool thing is, the little clown puppet guy was a gift year before last I think, an articulated paper puppet on a stick!! Really cool seeing him in animated action once again.

  3. YAY! I'm so happy you guys got 'em.

    Yuji, here's the making of story for the elf! http://www.flickr.com/photos/thestriderstopmotionpatrolofjoy/sets/72157594438437854/ fyi.

    Strider, fyi I tried last night to upload the animated gifs for my fail attempt and the final animation for these cards but neither Flickr nor Blogger supports animated gifs! Boo!

    I may sign up for Photobucket and post the link here for the hell of it. Or maybe I'll make the first animation my banner for New Years Day because Blogger does support gifs for banners.


  4. ...And for avatars, I am reminded by yours!

  5. Wow - you really raise the bar for card giving!
    Do you still have any extras left?

  6. Absolutely, Emmyymme! Shoot me a snail mail address at nobledesign[at]sbcglobal[dot]net (kept strictly private) and I'll pop one in the mail to you right away!

    I have the makings for one more spindle too, but it'll have a wooden coin instead of a toy wheel as there weren't anymore wheels anywhere nearby. It'll still work though.

    And these disks work even by spinning them on a button pinned into a pencil eraser! Like a pin wheel.

    Dig it!


    If anyone would like to make their own Phenakistoscope animation, I can totally upload the dieline I made that can be used to position the art and as a guide for slicing out! There are tons of styles of windows in these, I can also direct folks to more links to those as well.

    Just say so!

  7. Absolutely brilliant!

  8. Why, thank you, Mike! Happy Holidays to you and your entire family!

  9. Thank you so much for mine, Herself!! I love it and have shown it to all my friends who were in absolute disbelief that they were handmade. I said, "TRUST ME, I know this gal...THEY'RE HANDMADE!" Happy, happy holidays to you and loads of love in 2009! xoxox, mcG

  10. yey! I just got mine Shelley! I absolutely LOVE IT!

    I tried something similar a while ago and totaly failed at it hehe! It takes a lot of work and precision, and you really got it here. Plus, using previous year's character is making a little story out of your xmas cards. You're a Genius.

    Thanks again,

  11. Hey! Thanks, McG! Thanks so much, that's so fun.

    Wow, Ale, you got one. We're doing pretty well mailing you things to your far away location in the world. I'm always shocked when you actually get these things! Too cool. And so glad you dug it. Anytime you want the disk's dieline, just say so!

    I think it would be a blast to make one of these animations with video footage frames! Anybody?

    You've already got the spinner!

  12. WOW! ....THANKS!! AND Happy Holidays !!


  13. Yeah, sure, Justin! And to you!

  14. I haven't recieved mine yet, but that doesn't matter as they're totally awesome.

    Hope you had a great Chrissy Shel; and are planning a warming mulled wine for new years.

  15. I got mine on Saturday, thanks so much as always Shelley! We love it!! Your crafty X-mas mailout has become my favorite holiday tradition, something home-made to look forward to every year, thank you!
    I hope your holidays are treating you both well, lots of love n hugs from the Lady and I!

  16. Eeeeeks! Rich.. I missed you by mistake! Not by omission! I didn't notice your card wasn't in the address stack. I just checked when you wrote the above and it wasn't there to my surprise. Halp! Please remedy my lack of your address so I can send you this card for your Awesome Shelley Stuff Collection (aka; the ASSC) right away.

    At least you got yours'n, Jeffery. (whew. who else did I miss?!) What more could I ask for but for someone to say they look forward to getting something you've made! Thank you so much, that means the world.

    I know what you mean because when you made me that little Nola clip with the button!? That rocked like nothing else!


  17. Anonymous6:16 AM

    Ohh Shelley, these are so amazing! Am I too late / too far away???

  18. Oh hell no! I'd love to send you one! No reader is too far away! I'll email you for your snail addy and whoosh, it's off to you. I found another bag of toy wheel so I can make the rest of the over flow their spindles too!

    Anyone else?

  19. Well Shelley you out did yourself agin this year. We got ours and are as pleased as punch. The whole thing is so cool. Thanks bunches and thanks for the linkage!


  20. Oh man!~, Mark! That was a total blast having these cards laser cut! I'm stone cold hooked! Look out for more, I'll be calling...

  21. Ok, got it last week, opened it but was so busy with a freelance project didnt investigate. Today, with my project almost done, am FINALLY reading my cards and playing. How did you make such an incredible thing? That works! That is so wonderful. I LOVE it and feel so honored to have one! Thank you Thank you. It will be on my tree with your other great gift from last year. You AMAZE me!

  22. Hooray, Kim! I'm so happy you liked it! Its so nice to make something and have be appreciated as you know!

    Can't wait for next year! Thank you!

  23. Doh - Totally missed this years - But wanted to pop in and tell you that the tree in a bottle from last year took pride of place in our decorations this year! Many thanks!

  24. Paul! I sent you one, of course! No gottie, eh? Would you like attempt #2?!

    I should publish Santa's list so people know they were sent. Plus, anyone who would like to e on the list for our annual handmade card can say so.

  25. Anonymous4:05 AM

    I got the card, I got the card!!! THANK you Shelley, it's very well made, and so cool to see come to life!

    I can't believe these are handmade; they look so hard to make. Well done!

    Very sweet card too :)

  26. Oh! I'm so glad it got there!, thanks for letting me know, Stephanie! Now I have your address for next years! hee hee.


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