Scanimation inventor creates a literary movement
By Hope Katz Gibbs
“I’M MOSTLY IN TERESTED in finding ways
to make magic,” says Rufus Butler Seder, a
filmmaker, inventor, toymaker and author of
several moving-picture books that use his
inventive Scanimation® creations, including
Gallop! (2007), Swing! (2008) and his 2009
What is Scanimation?
“It is a technique that combines the eye’s
ability to use parallax perception with moiré-style multiple-line patterns, and a sheet of
acetate,” Seder explains. “Ultimately, the brain
thinks that the images on the page are actually
moving. But really the only thing that is happening is what is going on between your ears.
It’s a wonderful, patented optical illusion.”
Open the cover of Waddle!, for instance,
and the penguin on the page appears to slip,
slide and swoop. The frog on the second spread
leaps and flips, flops, flops. A pig prances, a
snake slithers and so on until the climax, which
(shhh, it’s an alligator) is certain to make a
4-year-old scream with delight.
Making kids giggle and grown-ups grin—
and then say, “How’d he do that?”—is exactly
the goal of the 56-year-old Seder, who credits
his parents with helping him become the artistic inventor he is today.
“My mom was a piano teacher, and my
father, Eugene, was a journalist and photographer who took me to see Fellini movies, wrote
news stories about inventors and was himself
an inventor and a capable electrical and
mechanical engineer,” shares Seder, who dedicated Swing! “To Mom, who made things fun,
and Dad, who made things work.”
Seder took it all in, and starting in elementary school began turning out work that
was sophisticated beyond his years. By the
time he hit high school he’d won numerous
art awards, including the prestigious CINE
Golden Eagle Award.
In the mid-1980s, Seder made his mark on
the independent film industry when he
founded the Boston Black and White Movie
Company. Among his films was Phantom
Subways, Sun Run and Live in Fear, the story of
a giant eyeball living atop a human body that
battles a giant cat and an enormous parrot.
“Admittedly, these weren’t big box-office
smashes,” offers Seder, “but we were definitely
making a contribution to the artistic side of the
independent film business.”
In 1990, he was inspired to take the concept of moving pictures to a new dimension.
He figured out how to create murals that use
no electricity, moving parts or special lighting—but still appear to move as the viewer
walks by. After some experimentation, Seder
developed 3-pound, 8-inch-square, lens-ribbed glass tiles that appear to move. He calls
These “movies for the wall,” as Seder
explains it, became a new revenue stream. He
continues to design and install these “
moving” works of art, which range in price
from $50,000 to $200,000, at places such
as Union Station in Washington, D.C., the
Miami Seaquarium, museums and other public spaces around the world, including San
Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, which will
receive an installation in 2011.
What tickles Seder most, he says, is watching people react to his work. “Some people walk
or run back and forth, making the pictures
The Costco Connection
Rufus Butler Seder’s Swing!, Gallop! and
Waddle! are available in most warehouses.
‘move,’ while others stop, stare, smile to themselves and sway from side to side. The people
can be as fun to watch as the work itself.”
By 1999, Seder was ready for a new
adventure. He and his bride, and business
manager, Penny Sander, decided it would be
fun to marry Seder’s passion for antique toys
with his love of moving pictures. They opened
Eye Think Inc. (
designed Seder’s first toy, the CineSpinner—
an animated sun catcher that comes to life
and animates continuously as it gently rotates
in a window: dancers dance, horses gallop
and monkeys swing from vine to vine.
Then, during a trade show in 2006, a
book buyer for Workman Publishing named
Raquel Jaramillo happened to walk up to
Seder’s booth, where he was selling cards. She
spent quite a bit of time examining the drawings and playing with them to see what they’d
do. Soon after, she called Seder to ask if he’d
like to turn them into a book.
“I was tickled at the offer, although slightly
hesitant at first because I didn’t really want to
give away the secret to how I make them
work,” Seder shares. “But it’s very hard to say
no to Raquel.”
Three years later he is working on book
number four—this one using the Star Wars
characters. Although he didn’t get to meet
George Lucas, he admits it was a challenge to
create R2-D2 and C-3PO in Scanimation.
Nonetheless, he found a way to make it happen. C
JANUARY 2010 ;e Costco Connection 71
Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer in
Arlington, Virginia, whose husband and two
kids were enthralled with Seder’s books.