Illusions and visual special effects – explanations and tutorials

Optical Illusions

Trompe L’oeil Exhibition

September 8th, 2009 by david

If you’ve visited this site before, you may remember a wonderful Trompe-L’Oeil painting of a boy escaping through a window, by a Spanish artist called Del Caso.

You can see that painting this winter, if you have a chance to be in Florence, Italy. It will be in an exhibition called Art and Illusion, Masterpieces of Trompe L’oeil from Antiquity to the Present Day. It’s on at the Palazzo Strozzi from October 16th 2009 to Jan 24th 2010. If you have a chance to go, I’d recommend booking a ticket in advance if possible. Florence tends to be packed all year, and queues can be endless. (unless you go just before Christmas!).

Here’s another wonderful image in the show.
Cabinet trompe l'oeil by Domenico Remps

(This image may be subject to copyright. I try only to use images on this site that you can freely download and use for non-commercial purposes. However in this case it may only be fair use to reproduce the image in publicity for the exhibition)

Amazingly, this is not a painting! It’s a picture made of a mosaic of tiny slivers of inlaid stone. It was done about four hundred years ago by Flemish artist Domenico Remps, and usually it lives in a small institution in Florence called the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.

The subject is a so-called cabinet of curiosities. These were little display collections of natural and artistic curiosities, placed in specially made cabinets by wealthy collectors between four and three hundred years ago. They went out of fashion as collections of such things became too large and specialised for a small cabinet, but they are the ancestors of today’s museums.

Trompe L’oeil is french for Trick the Eye. The idea of pictures in this style is to be so realistic that, ideally, viewers might be deceived into not realising that they were looking at a picture rather than the real thing.

Sleights of Mind – illusions and magic

March 2nd, 2011 by david

The dome in the left hand picture is an illusion!  It was painted on the ceiling of the Jesuit church in Vienna by Andrea Pozzo a bit over three hundred years ago. Seen from just the viewpoint of the photo on the left, it’s one of the classics of trompe l’oeil painting.  The right hand photo, looking the other way down the nave of the church, shows how Pozzo had to distort his painting of the dome, in order for the perspective illusion to work from a viewpoint near the high altar of the church, as in the left hand photo.   (Copyright might be asserted in these images.  Most of the images on this site are my own or out of copyright, and can freely be used for private, non-commercial purposes, but these are third party photos.  Apologies, I don’t know who took them).

I’m posting about this painting to draw attention to a fascinating recent book in which Pozzo is featured.  The effect of his paintings, especially in this church and in the Church of Sant’Ignazio in Rome, is almost magically illusionistic, and the book is about what conjuring and magic have to teach us about perception and the brain.  It’s by cognitive scientists Stephen Macknik, Susana Martinez-Conde, with science writer Sandra Blakeslee: Sleights of Mind: what the neuroscience of magic reveals about our brains. The connection between illusions and conjuring has intrigued many researchers, but this is a ground-breaking published study.

Macknik and Martinez-Conde (a married couple, each running a separate research lab) also founded the Best Illusion of the Year Competition, now in it’s seventh year.