Playing Cards with the Novelty of Flip-book Animation

Posted by EndersGame Reviewer on

by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame

I'm a real sucker for novelty. So any deck of playing cards that has something especially unusual about it, will immediately have my attention. A deck with a novel tuck case? Unique artwork? Novel features? I'm definitely the target market for all of that. That makes me the perfect candidate for decks of playing cards that feature flip-book animation.

So what is flip-book animation? A flip-book is a book consisting of a series of images, one per page, so that when you flip through the pages quickly in succession, it produces an animated image. Interestingly, the German term for a flip-book (daumenkino) literally means "thumb cinema". It is a perfect term, because that's exactly how this works: you flip through the pages, to create a cinematic animation. The resulting animated film may be somewhat primitive in form, but it is surprisingly effective, and it is certainly very novel.

It is not hard to see how playing cards can serve as the perfect canvas for flip-book animation. A deck of cards consists of around 50 pieces of thin card-stock, and they are ideal in size and thickness for flipping through with your thumb. You'll occasionally hear it described as "taking a deck to the movies".

The first time I saw this concept applied to playing cards was in the world of card magic, with Dan Harlan's stunning card trick "Cardtoon". It has become a modern classic, and Jamie Raven successfully performed it on Britain's Got Talent. The creator Dan Harlan even performed it himself on Fool Us, incorporating an unexpected twist that left Penn and Teller baffled.

But you don't have to be into card magic to enjoy the novelty of a deck of playing cards with flipboard animation. Here are some great custom decks that have this fun feature built into their design and artwork.

Bicycle Cinema deck

Created by Collectable Playing Cards and printed by USPCC, the Bicycle Cinema Playing Cards brings the magic of old time movies to playing cards.

Bicycle Cinema deck

In the words of the creative team, "The look is inspired by the golden age of film, including retro film, reels, comfy red seats and projectors."

The card design looks just like a film strip, with the cards having a classic yellowed finish to give a nostalgic and old time look. If you look carefully, you'll notice how the card values and their pips are carefully positioned along the sides inside the film strip.

Bicycle Cinema deck

One of the really unique things about this deck is the animation feature - you can flip through the cards to do a 3-2-1 count-down, just like in the old movies. The film strip sides also appear to move vertically during this animation, which looks really cool.

Even though this feature does take away something from the functionality of the deck (since all the card backs are unique and could be memorized), it has been well implemented, and it gives added appeal for collectors. Extra details like Joker holding a bag of popcorn add to the thematic charm.

Bicycle Cinema deck

Mechanic deck

The Mechanic Deck is the signature and feature deck from the creative magic team at Mechanic Industries. First created in 2012, its success saw the release of a new and improved V2. The whole concept revolves around gears, cogs, and chains, which are depicted with a metal look.

Mechanic deck

But the real point of interest is the card backs, where the design has a metal feel, helping create the impression that what you are holding in your hands a miniature working factory, with churning metal cogs. You won't need to rely on your imagination to see the gears turning, because the flip-book animation allows you to flip through the cards and actually see the gears turning through the deck - check the video trailer to see this amazing effect in action! Riffling through these cards becomes an immensely satisfying experience - far more than with an ordinary deck.

It won't come as a surprise that these animations also mean that there's a built-in marking system, making this deck ideal for card magic too. As well as a gaff card, the Jokers are also geared towards magic tricks. And on the company website, there's tons of resources for magic routines that specifically take advantage of the features of this unique deck.

Mechanic deck

Metallic Mechanic Decks

To celebrate the fifth birthday of Mechanic Industries, a very special version of the Mechanic deck was produced: a pair of Metallic Mechanic decks, dubbed Glimmer (gold) and Shiner (silver).

Mechanic deck

For added luxury, the interior of both of these decks is entirely foiled, producing a very shiny and stunning look. To match the stylish tuck boxes, metallic gold and silver inks were used on the card faces.

Like the Mechanic Deck, these decks have a flip-book animation system and a marking system built into the card backs. The design is similar to the original Mechanic decks, but metallic gold and silver inks give a more glamorous look. Riffling through the deck shows the cogs turning, as shown in the official video trailer.

Mechanic deck

Optricks Deck

The guys at Mechanic Industries are also the team behind the Optricks Deck. Be warned, because flipping through this deck may result in temporary confusion or a hypnotic state, due to the optical illusion produced by the card backs.

Optricks Deck

The cumulative impact of the geometric pattern of red and white lines on the back design creates a hypnotising look that can start making you go giddy just by staring at it. But when this deck is riffled, so that each card flips from one to next, slight variations in the artwork on the card backs produce a mesmerising and hypnotic illusion. The squares animate and appear to sink into each other and come to a point, making for a wonderful optical illusion, which you can see demonstrated in the video trailer.

While the face cards are relatively standard, this deck is especially great for magicians, because it comes with access to free video tutorials, and some very unique gaff cards: the "Anamorphic Queen Gaff", and the "Optibox Gaff" - both of which are used to create unique illusions of their own.

Optricks Deck

Roulette Deck

I'm amazed someone didn't previously think of applying flip-book animation to a roulette wheel on the card backs, so trust the guys of Mechanic Industries to use their expertise to produce an amazing deck that does exactly this with their Roulette deck.

Roulette Deck

The tuck box has a roulette style betting chart on the front, while the back pictures the roulette wheel that is also the chief feature of the card backs. When flipping through the cards, the backs produce an animation of the roulette wheel spinning around, which you can see in action in the video trailer. The roulette concept has been applied to other aspects of these playing cards as well, and the court characters have been provided with accessories like a roulette ball, rake, and handfuls of money.

Collectors will be happy enough with the amusing novelty of the flipboard animation. But purchasing the deck also gives you access to two hours of video instruction online for a large number of gambling-themed card tricks you can do with this deck, as demonstrated in this performance video. This deck is more than just a novelty deck of cards, but is a complete toolbox of magic effects. The low price makes it an outstanding value for magicians who like gambling routines.

Roulette Deck

Clockwork Empire City Deck

Designer and animator Stephen W. Brandt has created several "Clockwork" decks that all feature striking flip-book animation, beginning with his Clockwork Empire City deck, which features art deco style of New York City. Stephen is an animator, graphic designer, and art director who works for commercial television and has experience in making animated shorts, so playing cards with flip-book animation are an ideal way for him to combine his skills into one creative product.

Clockwork Empire City deck

Clockwork naturally lends itself to animation, and this particular deck has flip-book animation on both sides of the cards, which immediately adds extra interest for collectors. On the faces the animation includes a changing logo (with a raven landing and taking off), moving letters that make up a short phrase, as well as moving cogs and gears. Check out the flip-book animation for yourself via this animated gif.

The back of the cards feature an intricate series of cogs and gears, and when animated using the flip-book technique, the main framework of the artwork remains static while the internal mechanism rotates. You can see this animation in action via this animated gif.

Clockwork Empire City deck

Clockwork La Ville Lumiere Deck

The Clockwork La Ville Lumiere deck is the second deck in this series. Each of the Clockwork decks focuses on a different city or theme, which in this case is the French city of Paris, featuring the Art Nouveau style.

Clockwork La Ville Lumiere Deck

With the La Ville Lumiere deck the card backs feature a static picture that matches the artwork on the tuck box, thus avoiding any issue with this becoming a marked deck, which would make it less practical to use.

The aim of the animations on the card faces was to give viewers the sense of holding in their hands an exquisite clockwork jewel box in action. The highlight is the intricate and moving clock mechanism, which has a 3D feel courtesy of the details. There's also an animated logo, and an image that slowly rotates to show a change from day (sun) to night (moon), with clouds and sunshine giving way to stars. You can see the effect in this animated gif.

Clockwork La Ville Lumiere Deck

Clockwork Quackington Deck

Clockwork Quackington deck is themed around the city of London, England.

Clockwork Quackington Deck


The "quack" in the title already gives an indication that this is a more whimsical entry in the series, and gives a hint of what you can expect to find inside: toy ducks. The overall presentation is inspired by children's books from the 1950s. The artwork pictures a town full of yellow rubber ducks, which represent important British royals and literary figures.

As you can see from this animated gif, the flip-book animation of the faces of the cards shows a clockwork style setting, with arcade-like ducks swimming and diving. It is highly entertaining, giving this deck a less serious and more playful feel than its predecessors.

Clockwork Quackington Deck

Clockwork Montana Mustache Manufacturing Co Deck

The most recent project in this series is Clockwork Montana Mustache Manufacturing Co deck.

Clockwork Montana Mustache Manufacturing Co Deck

This deck has retro feel inspired by late 19th century illustrations, and features the state of Montana. It also has attractive features like custom pips in an unusual elongated style.

But the real attraction is the extensive animations on the card faces, with Monty Python-esque humour being an obvious influence in the art style used. The centerpiece is a heavily mustachioed character, with a clockwork style machine protruding from the top of his head, as seen in this animated gif.

Clockwork Montana Mustache Manufacturing Co Deck

Wonderland and Looking-glass Flip-Book Decks

As their names suggest, the Wonderland and Looking-glass decks are inspired by Lewis Carroll's famous Alice in Wonderland. This pair of decks were only recently produced, and the Looking Glass deck is already out of print.

Wonderland and Looking-glass Flip-Book Decks

The artwork on the tuck boxes and card backs were the creator's own homage to these timeless classics, in his own personal style.

The card faces feature animated artwork based on John Tenniel's well-known illustrations. In the first deck Alice grows and shrinks, while in the second deck she gesticulates to Humpty Dumpty as he falls off the wall, as shown in this animated gif. The court cards feature key characters from the tales.

Wonderland and Looking-glass Flip-Book Decks

Other decks

The above decks serve well to demonstrate the wonderful creativity that is possible with flip-book animation, but by no means exhausts the list of decks that have this feature. Other decks that have this unique feature include:

Axis deck

This deck was a collaboration between Riffle Shuffle and Occupied Co, and has artwork inspired by Neo-Tokyo designs and spy movies from the early 2000s. The card backs picture two world globes, and flip-book animation will cause these to rotate 360 degrees.

axis deck

Fantastique deck

From noted magicians and cardists Dan and Dave Buck comes the Fantastique deck, which was produced in 2011 and is now a collector's item. It was inspired by the automatons of famous magician Robert-Houdin. With artwork by Sveta Dorosheva, riffling through the deck makes the illustrations of two famous illusions come to life. An orange tree blossoms out of the top hat of an acrobat, while a woman is sawed in half and pulled apart.

Fantastique deck

VHS 1982 deck

This deck is from Jackson Robinson and Kings Wild Project, and is designed to bring back the nostalgia of classic video tapes and VCRs from the 1980s. The back design of the cards is styled after a classic VHS cassette, and the flip-book animation produces a rewind effect, which you can see in this animated gif.

VHS 1982 deck

Moonphases deck

The creators (Perpetual Playing Card Co) have a real love for the beautiful display that the lunar cycle can produce when well implemented on a mechanical watch, and that's what their flip-book animation replicates. The card faces are heavily customized as well with plenty of clocks and cogs, tying together the central theme of the movement of time, as represented by the changing phases of the moon. See the animation in this animated gif.

Moonphases deck

John Littleboy decks

John Littleboy is the creator of several semi-transformation decks, each with its own theme: Popinjay (birds), Mermaid Queen (sea creatures), Kitten Club (cats), Pack of Dogs (dogs), and Bag of Bones (skeletons). The number cards in each separate suit feature a progressive image, which is effectively a miniature flip-book animation consisting of just ten cards; each deck thus creating four separate animations.

John Littleboy decks

Final Thoughts

A deck of playing cards is effectively a miniature portfolio that contains around 50 separate works of art. So it is no surprise that someone would take advantage of the fact that these artworks can be combined together in a single whole, by turning these separate illustrations into a single cinematic work via flip-book animation.

All this just goes to show what can happen when some clever ingenuity and originality is applied to a custom deck, and what smart creators can accomplish. It certainly makes for some great novelty decks, and these decks are wonderful choices for collectors, and certain to impress all who see them.

cinema playing cards


About the writerEndersGame is a well-known and respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.

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Last update date: 04/21/21

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