A magical zoetrope of Catbus from "My Neighbor Totoro"

Originally published at: A magical zoetrope of Catbus from "My Neighbor Totoro" | Boing Boing


I was blown away by this when I first saw it, as not only is it beautifully animated, but I was struck by how small it all is, how well-formed each catbus is (and how consistent they are), and that they’re lit up. I was assuming some form of 3D printing was used, but that doesn’t explain the lights, and now looking at all the CG animations in their feed, including animations composited with real footage, I’m wondering if it’s even a real object, or a zoetrope created and rendered entirely in software. The more I look at it, the less real it looks, and the “vfx” tag in particular makes me think it’s all rendered, not real.


this computer-animated Catbus zoetrope

…seems to be the giveaway.

But it is beautiful, however it was made.


I missed that, somehow, though if it were real, it would also be computer animated (and printed).

It’s weird that the creator set this up to make people believe it were a real object, though.


i came here through a boingboing facebook link and it didn’t mention CGI, and the tweet doesn’t say it either. Easy to miss that part. BUT there is a real life 3d animated stroboscope featuring the catbus on a much larger scale: My Neighbor Totoro stroboscope - YouTube


looking at the comments on the original tweet it seems like no one has any idea it’s CGI. It’s a cool animation no doubt, but it always bugs me when things go viral because of a misconception. Like “can you believe this thing!?” is less a reaction you’d have if it isn’t real. Like when people share pictures of photoshop over-saturated photos of colorful trees or a sculpture of a baby animal thinking it’s real. Not always the fault of the original artist, and pretty low on the list of problems with society, but just a pet peeve of mine.


I want to believe!

Before it gets up to speed, I stopped it a few times, and each catbus is in a different pose. With the speed synced to the camera frame rate, it should smoothly animate, if it’s a real object.


This is fucking magical.

Jumba Jookiba - it's so beautiful


That is a gorgeous piece of work, no matter how it is executed.


An actual zoetrope needs some sort of way to strobe the images, usually either slits or mirrors. But given that, it should certainly be possible to actually do this in real-space.


I’ve seen the strobe effect achieved with just a strobe light and a dim room. A camera shutter could also presumably be made to achieve it for filming.


Yeah, as CGI the most impressive bit becomes the hand opening the box and the camera zooming in on the zoetrope, rather than the animation. As a Blender animation, it’s quite good, but if it were a real object, it would be amazing, not just because of the animation and the craft involved in constructing the object, but also syncing up the frame rate of the camera with the animation so perfectly. Being CGI means most of what was so impressive about it as an object is gone.

I think that confusion is deliberate on the part of the artist, here - they have an earlier “zoetrope cake” video too, that tries very hard to convince the viewer it’s real, that people assumed was real and it got orders of magnitude more likes and retweets than anything else they’ve done. They’re trying to outdo themselves with this one; not correcting anyone’s misconceptions is part of it.

I’m realizing how much I overlooked by initially assuming it was real. The lighting, in particular, doesn’t work for a real object - there’s an interior light, headlights, an illuminated bus sign and rear lights. I initially assumed each catbus had its own tiny led, or perhaps there was a light under the rotating platform, being channeled up into each, but the distribution of light makes that impossible. (They’re also too tiny for each lit area to have its own light.) Also, it’s far too perfect (in terms of shape, consistency, color and orientation) to be real, especially given how tiny it’s supposed to be.

In fact, I’d say a lot of what makes it so impressive, if you assume it’s a physical object, is that it’s actually impossible to make as a physical object, and on some level your brain realizes that. The brain interprets it as being (literally) magical.


I don’t know if it’s real or CGI, but here’s a video explaining how to achieve a similar motion effect when filming animated spinner designs:


I’ve also seem some effects that depend on the 60hz frequency of fluorescent lights.


Fiber optics?


Hm. So there’s a really bright light hiding in the base illuminating the other ends of the fibers? Or maybe you have a lot of fibers in each bus.

No, just a tiny LED. (Since the light levels could be tweaked recording or in post, it might not have to be too bright.)

I don’t know modelling, but I do know that they are maniacs for detail, so I’m hesitant to say what they can’t do.

N-scale is big compared to what those catbuses would have to be, but still:

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Oh, this kind of effect is totally doable (at least when filmed, or viewed with a strobe light or through a slit), albeit not so perfectly as this one pretends. (And this is where the person’s other supposed zoetrope video falls apart - we’re meant to believe that the effect worked for those present, under normal light, on a cake, when all they would have seen was a blur.)

There are all sorts of amazing 3d printed zoetropes being made by artists out there, e.g.:

That was my initial assumption, but I realized they’re just too freakin’ tiny for that. Each one would be, in real life, something like half an inch long at most (think n-scale human figure, not model train), and would require at least 6 different lights/fiber strands, each of which at a different level of brightness (or, to be more accurate, each light behaving in a different way). There’s not enough space in the structure to run wires/fibers for the top light, for instance, even if they were vanishingly tiny. (And the “lights” look more like emissive textures to me.)

Also, they’re identical in a way that you couldn’t get in reality, at least not at that scale. They have perfectly identical colors and surface details and alignment - to be real you’d have to be able to do a color 3d print, with everything printed as one piece, at extremely high resolution using a printer that required no post-printing surface treatment, but which printed with a smooth, glossy texture and absolutely no blemishes or inconsistencies. There simply ain’t no such thing, right now.

If they had presented this as if it were something much larger, it would have been a lot more believable for a number of different reasons.


There’s a cut scene between the hand opening the lid and the up-close on the catbusses. My guess was the physical parts were the hand, the lid, and possibly the turntable of catbusses that originally start spinning, but I’m not any kind of expert on this.


I’m not entirely sure any of it is real, but the rotating bit, in all scenes, must be pure CGI, including the distance shot. It might be Twitter video compression, but the edges of the hand are off (though this also might just be because the background and other elements behind the hand are CG). The edges of the lid are weird as it’s being opened, with inconsistent shadows on the box and the hinge clipping through the lid at one point, so the case and possibly the lid are CGI as well. If anything’s real, it’s just the hand and lid.

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