Monday, October 14, 2019

Google Doodle pays tribute to Joseph Plateau, who paved the way for cinema with the phenakistiscope

Today’s logo at has been replaced with an animation representing animation itself — a modern artist’s interpretation of the phenakistiscope, a spinning disc invented in 1833 that’s considered one of the precursors to modern cinema. Like most Google Doodles, it’s to celebrate the birthday of a person who moved the world forward, namely Belgian physicist Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau, who’s often credited with inventing the device.

But strangely, Google’s own description fails to mention that Plateau isn’t the only one who invented the phenakistiscope. It’s one of history’s famous cases of simultaneous invention, where Austrian professor Simon Stampfer was simultaneously studying the same optical illusion, including descriptions of that illusion from British scholar Peter Mark Roget and a specific mechanical example of that illusion published by the famed British scientist Michael Faraday. (Roget may have built some phenakistiscopes in private too.) There’s a heck of a Wikipedia article about it that points back to some of their original writings, and I also liked this 14-page article at JSTOR.

Google’s animations also don’t necessarily do justice to the intricacy of the original Victorian-era illusions — some of which are still a sight to behold:

All that aside, Google says it’s doing something unique to celebrate Plateau: the company says it’s the first Doodle with different artwork across desktop, mobile, and its dedicated search app. See below, or try it out for yourself on your own device.

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