When I was a kid I was fascinated by animation. How did they get drawings to move? It wasn’t like magic. It was magic. Luckily there were a few educational programs—although now I don’t remember specifically which ones—that showed animators at work, how they drew on transparent cels and then photographed those against backgrounds, and also how to create flip books. My father worked for a steel company that had paper pads with the company’s name on them because if there’s one thing people associate with steel it’s paper. Anyway I’d take one of those pads and make my own flip books, drawing out the adventures of various characters like Periscope Man who was a vaguely sinister, er, periscope with one eye and arms and legs. He had a lot of adventures mainly because he was easy to draw but that’s another story.
And then I read about this public artwork that would give subway riders a short animation show. It’s the same principle as the flip book but applied differently.
Although I never got to see the Masstransiscope in action the fun part of learning about it is I realized I could watch out the car window on long road trips and see the white lines along the pavement, or variations in the pavement itself, as strange, abstract animation.
Try it sometime—if you’re not the one driving.
Here’s a video of artist Bill Brand’s Masstransiscope restored in 2008 and a short video about the restoration.