What Is a Flipbook Animation?

Alan Rankin

A flipbook animation is a simple type of animation created by viewing successive images so quickly that they seem to form a sequence. The most common method is by printing images on the pages of a book, which can then be flipped or thumbed through rapidly. A flipbook animation is also known as a kineograph or thumb book. Flipbooks and similar devices were important early precursors of film animation. For this reason, many animators and animation fans have a fondness for the flipbook format.

Flipbook animation is viewed by viewing successive images in a quick motion so that they seem to form a sequence.
Flipbook animation is viewed by viewing successive images in a quick motion so that they seem to form a sequence.

Soon after the invention of photography in 1826, photographers and inventors began studying the principles that would lead to motion pictures. Primary among these was persistence of vision, a physiological phenomenon in which the human eye retains an image for a split-second after seeing it. If a succession of images showing a sequence of movements is displayed quickly enough, it creates the illusion of continual movement to the observer. This principle allows for the creation of motion pictures, both photographic and animated, which are composed of multiple still images. The initial application of this concept, however, was the flipbook.

In 1894, Herman Casler invented the Mutoscope, which mechanized the process of flipbook animation.
In 1894, Herman Casler invented the Mutoscope, which mechanized the process of flipbook animation.

Drawing on earlier experiments, the English printer John Barnes Linnett first patented the flipbook, which he called a kineograph, in 1868. Flipbook animation soon became a popular novelty throughout Europe, the United States, and the developed world. The most widespread format was a booklet small enough to fit into a child’s hand. Each page of the booklet had a drawn image or photograph that was part of a larger sequence, often a brief story with a humorous slant or ending. The user would hold the booklet in one hand and rapidly flip the pages with the thumb of the other hand, causing the sequence to “play.”

As the 19th century wore on, there were efforts to mechanize the process of flipbook animation. This was finally achieved with the 1894 invention of the Mutoscope by American photographic pioneer Herman Casler. The Mutoscope presented a sequence of images on cards that could be advanced by means of a hand-turned crank. This coin-operated device was one of many that were popular in penny arcades at the turn of the 20th century. The visuals and subject matter were sometimes racy, leading to moral condemnation of the technology; nevertheless, it remained popular until it was superseded by motion pictures a few years later.

Printed flipbooks, meanwhile, remained popular as children's novelties, because they were easy to use and cheap to produce. Many children’s books and magazines feature them in the corners of their pages, where they can be easily flipped. Animators will sometimes include a homage to flipbook animation in their films or TV shows. A scene in the 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, for example, has the title character flipping through photographs so quickly that the viewer sees them as an animated sequence. In a 2002 episode of The Simpsons, the opening scene of the family rushing to the couch was animated in a flipbook style.

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Discussion Comments


@MrsPramm - As long as you aren't trying for perfection it's not that tough. I've made a few flipbooks over the years and mostly you just hold the previous page over the one you're working on to compare them. There's a reason that most of the time they are done in a small scale, with simple characters though.


@umbra21 - The best version I've ever seen was one that was quite a long sequence and had been entirely drawn on a roll of toilet paper.

I don't know how people manage to make the images look so good in sequence when they can't trace the previous image onto the new page, to be honest. I have mucked around with making little animations on my computer which is basically the same process, but there I can put one image on top of another in order to see if they match closely enough. When you're drawing on paper, unless it's tracing paper, it would be very tough to match everything up so the image doesn't jump around.


I love flipbooks. I remember getting one from Disneyland when I was a kid that showed Belle and the Beast dancing in the ballroom when you flipped it on one side and them dancing at the end of the movie on the other side.

If you want to see some custom made flipbooks, there are heaps of them online at Youtube and other video sharing sites like that.

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