Video> Optical illusions come to life in Stanford designer’s mesmerizing 3D-printed zoetrope sculptures

Design Technology West
The petals appear to seethe up and down (Courtesy Instructables)

The petals appear to seethe up and down (Courtesy Instructables)

Nature’s algorithms reign supreme in a series of revolving 3D printed sculptures by designer-cum-artist John Edmark, also an adjunct lecturer at Stanford’s Department of Art & Art History. The sculpture sits on a rotating base and animates when it is placed under a strobe light or filmed using a camera with extremely slow shutter speeds.

Consisting of petals and cube-like geometric angles arranged at unique distances from the top-center, the sculpture creates an optical illusion whereby the 3D projections appear to seethe from the top down and back again. Herein lies the magic formula: what the viewer is actually seeing is each petal at graduated distances from the top center.

(Courtesy Instructables)

(Courtesy Instructables)

The placement of each petal is in accordance with Fibonacci theory, a number pattern inherent in nature which determines everything from phyllotaxy (leaf order) to the whorls in our fingerprint. “The placement of the appendages is determined by the same method nature uses in pinecones and sunflowers,” Edmark is quoted as saying. A third variation of the sculpture resembles stacked hollow donuts perforated with holes, which moves like a coiling snake.

GIF of Blooming Zeotrope Sculpture (Courtesy Instructables)

GIF of Blooming Zoetrope Sculpture (Courtesy Instructables)

In the video, the sculptures are spinning at 550 rotations per minute while being rotated at 24 frames per second with a shutter speed of 1/4000 per second. The rotation speed is synchronized with the camera’s frame rate so that one frame of video is captured every time the sculpture turns 137.5 degrees—the “golden angle” in science based on the golden ratio that leads to the formation of spiral patterns.


Edmark created the designs as part of his role as artist in residence for Instructables, a popular DIY network that was bought by software giant Autodesk in 2011. The artist rendered the computer models using Rhino software with a scripting program called Python. They were then exported as files and printed using a Z-printer 450.

The Blooming Zoetrope Sculptures can be ordered ready-made from 3D printing site Shapeways, but for science geeks or enterprising DIYers, Edmark has offered to share the files to print at home with those who contact him through Instructables.

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