Google is celebrating the 218th birthday of Belgian physicist Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau with a Google Doodle recalling the earliest animation device. Starting on Sunday, October 13 at 9 p.m. PT and running for 24 hours through Monday, Google will swap out its regular header for an animated Doodle inspired by his work.
Plateau worked on visual perception in the 1800s, looking at how the human retina responds to light and color. His research led him to develop the phenakistiscope, the first animation device which was an early predecessor to the invention of cinema. The stroboscopic device worked through two disks that rotated in opposite directions, with holes in one disk and images on the other. When spun at the right speed, the disks gave the illusion of movement and became the earliest form of animated art.
To pay tribute to the distinctive style of the phenakistiscope artwork, the Google Doodle animations have the same animated disk format, with constantly looping motions. The Doodles were created by animator and filmmaker Olivia Huynh, who said she was inspired by the breadth of Plateau’s work. “I enjoy Plateau’s broad range of interests,” she said in a statement. “I think it’s a good message to show that you can be interested in lots of things, like science, math, art, invention, craft, and that they can overlap.”
Each animation is created from only 12 drawings, but the images are looped together to create a seamless and mesmerizing moving picture. The circular theme of the elements and the repetitive movements recall Plateau’s original work, with a fun modern twist.
To translate Plateau’s scientific understanding of the eye to a visually appealing animation, Huynh turned to historical research to learn about the phenakistiscope format. “I spent a lot of time looking through phenakistiscope plates to see how they worked, and what type of actions worked best for that space,” she said. “The blue disk specifically references his work in physics, specifically his laws around soap films, and how the structure of bubbles is mathematical.”
If you’re enjoying the Google Doodle, try loading up Google on a different device too. The Plateau tribute is the first time the Google Doodle has different visuals for different devices, with desktop, mobile, and app versions all having their own stylized artwork.