Tucked away in the forests of New Hampshire, somewhere just outside of Strafford, is a family of giant metal boxes. Each one is filled with 50 drawings and rigged with a system of gears that lets you crank through the images with the turn of a handle. As the illustrationsÂ flip past, theyÂ combine to form a simple animation. Theyâ€™re like those flip books you used to play with as a kid, only much, much bigger.
â€œAs far as we know, these are the worldâ€™s largest mechanical flipbooks ever made,â€ says Chee-Kit Lai, director of Mobile Studio. The London architecture firm collaborated with Beam Campâ€”a New Hampshire summer camp dedicated to teaching kids about creativity throughÂ building and makingâ€”to design the kinetic sculptures, which they call Universal Play Machines. They rely on the same mechanics as split-flap displays, the beloved (and increasingly rare) signs at airports and train stations that clackÂ whenÂ their flaps spin to display arrival and departure times.
In light of the installationâ€™s natural setting, the campers illustrated the flaps inside the Universal Play Machines to produce animations of bird behavior. They also treated the side panels of each installation with a one-way mirror film, and lined the inside with strips of LEDs. During the day, the side panels reflect the surrounding treesâ€”but at night, the LEDs render the side panels transparent, revealing the mechanism inside. Though the project is based on a simple idea (artists haveÂ been using variations on this techniqueÂ to create animations for centuries), at this scale and in this setting itâ€™s one of the more charming installations weâ€™ve seen in a while.