Learnings from Our Lab

Making a parallax theatre for visual story telling

What do you get when you mix parallax web technology, wooden gears , video projection with 19th century moving panoramic theatre?

How we tell a story is just as important as the story we tell. What happens when we mix old and new technologies to tell our stories?  In the 19th century moving panoramic theatres called  “crankies” featured a story sketched out on a long roll of paper. As a storyteller turns a crank the paper unravels displaying the illustrated story to an audience. This reminded me of parallax webpages where by scrolling through a page at a regular pace, other objects scroll by at different speeds/times.

Moving Panorama


These two ideas came together as a parallax cranky: I would build a small moving panoramic theatre, but with two different size rolls which would unravel at different speeds, to have a parallax scrolling effect.

I sketched out the story on two long rolls of paper of different heights and built a simple box to house it.


As an industrial designer, I knew that a few gears was all that was needed to make it “crank” and added three gears to the box. Made essentially from foam board and bits and pieces found from home and La Ruche d’art (a local art hive) the parallax cranky started to take form. The hardest part was lining up the two rolls, which run at different speeds, so that parts of the story lined up at the right time.

When I showed the parallax cranky to a large audience. I used the video camera (with a flipped image) on my computer to project the panoramic theatre as I told the story and cranked the handle.

The paper unravelled beautifully, much to the delight of all!


Now to share it with the world! We wanted to film it and share it online but the parallax cranky needed a few final tweaks. Notably, the original gears hand-cut of foamboard (a prototype material) could not stand up to the cranking


So I went for a visit to échoFab, our local FabLab, where I laser-cut fully functional wooden gears.


With the new gears slotted nicely into place…


We filmed the parallax cranky in motion.

For the video we replaced the oral story with traditional Québécois violin music, from  le Violon de Jos which really matches the style of the original panoramic moving theatres.

With hand-drawn illustrations, laser-cut gears, an old-fashioned crank, and video projection, the parallax cranky is an interplay between old and new technology that captures and honours both the essence of the narrative as well as the creative spirit of the story I was telling – the history of the Art Hives

If you have a story that you would like to have told with a parallax cranky, or would simply like to discuss the technology, please contact us.

The final video:

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