2012 was a pretty epic year for visual trickery. We stared through telescopes, transfixed by Venus' cosmic trick of the light; gaped in disbelief at a Rubik's Cube that wasn't; and watched with morbid curiosity as celebrities transformed into grotesque mutations of their former selves.
Sound crazy? We're just getting warmed up. Here are our picks for the very best optical illusions from 2012.
Society harbors a strange obsession with seeing celebrities disheveled, out of makeup, and out of shape. The video featured here takes that fascination and turns it totally inside out, by using normal photographs of good-looking celebrities to illustrate what's known as the "Flashed Face Distortion Effect" — an optical illusion first described last year by University of Queensland scientists Jason Tangen, Sean Murphy and Matthew Thompson, and re-imagined this year in the celebrity-version featured above.
The best thing about this illusion is that it was discovered by accident. Murphy had been working alone in the lab, skimming through photographs of faces aligned at eye-level, when he noticed that some of the faces lurking on the fringes of his vision looked frightening and deformed. The instant he tried to get a closer look at them, however, they appeared totally normal — attractive even. Can you imagine working in the lab late one night, only to discover a novel optical illusion that tricks you into perceiving attractive faces as utterly grotesque? Don't pretend for a second that wouldn't freak you the hell out. [More]
It's shaped like a caterpillar. It's colored like a caterpillar. It even has what appear to be spines running along its back, a feature common in many species of caterpillars. But this is no caterpillar. [More]
So you're a fan of time-lapse videos, and it goes without saying that you love optical illusions... but have you ever wondered what happens when you combine the two? One possible outcome is the video featured here, titled Flawed Symmetry of Prediction, as shot by Southern California artist Jeff Frost. [More]
The best optical illusions are often the ones we happen upon unintentionally, which is exactly what happened when redditor Liammm decided that water circling the drain of his sink would make for a nice photographic subject. Pareidolia, anyone? [More]
M.C. Escher's two-dimensional renderings of impossible feats of architecture are endlessly fascinating to look at, precisely because they could not exist as three-dimensional objects. Or could they? Gershon Elber, a computer science professor at the Israel Institute of Technology, has manipulated Escher's optical illusions so that they can be fabricated with a 3D printer. [More]
If you're a fan of shadow art, then you'll definitely appreciate this. Scientist and artist John V. Muntean crafts wood into carefully configured sculptures which, at first glance, resemble little more than amorphous clusters of random shapes; hold them beneath a light source, however, and a distinctive silhouette twists into existence. [More]
Another masterful Escher-esque illusion, this one created by engineering professor Kokichi Sugihara. Sugihara's award-winning creations often combine 2D-looking 3D structures with dynamic elements (like one or more rolling balls) to toy with you perception of scale, dimension, and linear perspective. This one was presented a few days ago at the European Conference on Visual Perception in Sardinia, Italy. [More]
This multi-sensory illusion was created by Roger Newport of the University of Nottingham, and plays with vision, touch and proprioception to produce the illusion that a participant's hand has disappeared. This illusion took first place in this year's 8th Annual Best Illusion of the Year contest (held by the Vision Sciences Society earlier this year). [More here and here]
An eldritch twist on the classic double-eye illusion: using only acrylic paint and her own demented sense of whimsy, Japanese artist Chooo-San transforms herself into an entity that escaped from either the Mos Eisley cantina or H.P. Lovecraft's mental monster manual. Happy nightmares! [More]
Some of the most compelling optical illusions are often the simplest. Case in point: the drawings of Japanese artist Nagai Hideyuki. With little more than a couple of sketchbooks, some pencils, and a little perspective, Hideyuki's 2D drawings turn into a series of surreal, three-dimensional weirdfests. [More]
For hilarious and sadistic kicks, German designer Friedrich van Schoor created this projection mapping installation of an entire building story occupied by two automobile-sized spiders. Oh, to be a
fly on the wall confused passerby when these eight-legged monsters began scampering. (Fast forward to 1:00 to kickstart the creepfest.) [More]
On June 5, skygazers the world over watched Venus pass between the Earth and the Sun. The transit of Venus, as it's called, is a rare astronomical event that wont be visible from Earth again for more than one hundred years. But the phenomena also gives rise to a long-studied natural optical illusion: for as long as the Venus transit has been observed, a strange thing has been happening. Instead of appearing as a dark, distinct circle, Venus makes its grand entrance onto the face of the Sun in the shape of a tear drop that slowly oozes onto the solar disc. A similar illusion can be witnessed as the planet's exits the disc. Astronomers refer to it as The Black Drop Effect, and it took them three hundred years to understand it. [More]