How Escher’s impossible waterfall was faked

Study the image above closely. You’ll notice that physically it is an impossible object, yet this is a screenshot of full-motion video. The clip after the break shows a gentleman pouring water into the waterfall where the wheel is located. The liquid flows in a direction that appears to be uphill, then falls onto the waterwheel where it was originally poured. Ladies and Gentleman, we have the solution to the world’s energy crisis. Nope, we have a hoax and the real question is how was it done?

[David Goldman] has come up with quite the explanation. He watched the video very closely and the put together a three-dimensional diagram showing how he would build the apparatus. If you saw the movie Inception (we highly recommend you do) you will remember the infinite stair puzzle that is exposed as an optical illusion. [David’s] proposed method for debunking this hoax uses a similar build that comes in four different, precisely placed elements.

We’ve got to hand it to him. That’s a brilliant theory! Of course the first commenter on the post linked above calls this out as CGI and we’re inclined to go with that answer but that’s much less fun.

[Thanks Herald via Make]

46 thoughts on “How Escher’s impossible waterfall was faked

  1. Easy enough. Watch the shadows folks. He walks in front of his light source before he pours the liquid, watch the shadows and glares on the machine behind him. More than likely a good use of camera position. It more than likely is downhill as the water flows, but due to the pillars and the angle of the filming, both done on purpose mind you, it appears to be uphill. There is no pooling, which would happen with an uphill slope, and the pace of the water suggests not a steep downhill, but more a gradual slope that’s hard to see with the human eye.

    Very fun though!

  2. I don’t have access to watch the video (corporate militia and all) but it reminds me of a similar build years ago. The builder ran a small pump at the bottom that had water pumped to the top of the waterfall. Some water flowed down the aquaduct while the rest fell over the falls. The water flowing down gave the illusion of moving against gravity because of the light background and, well, movement.

  3. Not to sound like a know-it-all douche but the fact that it is an impossible structure makes it very obvious that what you are looking at is an optical illusion that is only convincing because of the camera angle that was chosen. As with any of those, if you were to rotate the camera a few degrees either way you would see how the structure was tricking you.

    Sort of reminds me of the paper dragon illusion.

  4. So the structure can be made to look like it is uphill when it is in fact going down hill. How come the water falls from the ACTUAL lower point onto the wheel then? There is more to this trick than meets the eye.

  5. Notice there’s no water splashing off the end of the paddle wheel? it woulf be splashing all over… look at the car in front of you when its raining….

  6. why two videos? could be a more technical approach. between A and E the water flow looks like its comming out of a nosle. small pump bringing the water from C up to A and E?

  7. there are 2 light sources in the room, so why is the structure only casting a shadow in one direction. at 34 seconds you can see his shadow pass threw without interference of the structure

  8. as mentioned in the explanation link, watch at 0:45 in the video, you see the water kinda stall and then surge up near the top. if you continue watching that area, you can see the water splashing from being poured there. it is definitely two videos put together.

  9. I can easily imagine how the entire machine is a flat downhill slope with three corners in it and suitable angles to distort the perspective, and the towers are cut in strategic places to appear to be one piece each.

    What eludes me is how he makes the water wheel run, and how the water keeps flowing after it goes around.


  10. Here is my explanation– a combination of CGI, illusion, and trickery:

    1. The woodwork is real in the sense that he did construct something that from the right angle only LOOKS like the Escher’s waterfall. However, I don’t believe the waters runs through it in real life. This is where the CGI comes in.

    2. When he pours the water, the water escapes through an exit right after the trough (hidden by the water wheel).

    3. The illusion part of the video, which is water going uphill to the waterfall is done in CGI, and it’s very easy to do so. Simulating water flow upwards with CGI in straight lines is CGI 101.

    4. And lastly the water dropping from the fall onto the wheel is real. This is the trick part. I believe he has a tube going up to the fall portion (obstructed inside or behind the inside column), and he probably triggers this with his free hand since he’s mostly outside of the camera view. It could also be started by someone else in the room, that part is irrelevant.

    Anyhow, that’s my theory and if you can agree that Escher’s waterfall can be built to appear as such from a specific point of view (without running it, just as a still image), the rest I assure you is possible. Points 2-4 are 100% feasible.

  11. More evidence this is CGI (almost a complete confirmation)– the link referenced on the youtube page of this video is to a german design school or group. If you click look around, you can see several other advanced CGI projects on that site.

  12. People, stop calling it a hoax! -_- Its not fake. Its a illusion, in reality, its gowing DOWNHILL not UPHILL -_-

  13. People seem to be getting hung up on either the flow of the water *or* the architecture.

    The main problem I see is keeping the illusion of water flowing from source to destination, seamlessly, & without spilling a drop.

    If it was being done simply by the fixed POV optical illusion, then the water should be falling to the side of the wheel.

  14. While the explanation is almost certainly correct, the details are not. The device is certainly made possible by forced perspective and the precise positioning of the camera. But the diagram given is flawed. If you look at the man’s shadow at 0:05, you can see that the whole upper front surface goes simultaneously into shadow. Therefore the position of the two parts of this panel in the diagram cannot be so. I suspect that the whole front upper panel is one piece and is positioned to block the actual front panel of the lower section.

  15. Follow the vertical posts – it’s an impossible build as depicted. Definitely CGI or some sort of trickery. Cool effect though!

  16. If you look at 43 seconds in and watch the water go it looks totally fake and computer generated. The water kind of “skips frames” of video.

  17. “Simulating water flow upwards with CGI in straight lines is CGI 101.”

    Hmm, not quite, but easy enough for an experienced 3D artist.

  18. Certainly a lot of you people are getting trolled. It’s called an illusion. And also Daley the build is easy. Follow the posts and they all align on the structure itself.

  19. It’s a great illusion, and I am 100% certain the water is not CG.

    There may be some masking done, and it’s clearly not as it seems, but the liquid is real.

    Of all the solutions I’ve heard, I’m inclined to go with clever camera angle and alignment of the pieces to hide various pumps/tubing that gets the job done in a believable way.

    Great build though.

  20. Yep this is CGI.

    1. Rendering mistake #1: there are 2 main sources of light, one on the right casting a shadow of the structure on the ground toward the left, and one light on the left that should cast a shadow on the ground toward the right… but it is missing (contrary to shadows on parts of the structure itself)!

    2. Some other mistakes: the contraption itself is too bright compared to the ambient level of light; the white buckets are darker. And the texture of the upper parts of the wood contraption feels unrealistic; there is almost no grain.

    3. Most importantly, the poster wrote “ImD-student” in his profile which refers to which is an education establishment offering concept / 3D modelling courses.

    5. The poster also subscribed to the “indymogul” youtube channel which is a online community dedicated to DIY filmmaking.

  21. There are more than 2 lights, I count 4 at least. watch where he walks past from 30-36 over and over and you will see that different parts cast shadows at not only different angles but different intensities.

    If it’s CG it’s a masterful job at applying moving shadows to the CG. If it’s a physical object and just angle, then he also chose the zoom on the camera to be in the 60-80mm range to really flatten depth as well to increase the efect.

  22. You guys calling CG are correct. Watch it in 1080 on a big monitor and you can see the Mpeg/AVCHD artifacts from the camera in the video that are MISSING on the wooden device. compression artifacts are uniform across the video from a video camera, the video creator screwed up and did not apply a noise layer to all of the video before final render to hide the CG embedding.

  23. There’s a cutline right through the middle of the whole contraption. Watch the video in 1080p and have a look at the topmost roof, the one above the waterfall edge.

  24. I cannot see the moving demonstration, but it seems to me that it is much less impressive if it uses cgi, than if it is entirely mechanical. When I view the video, I will be looking for a slight disruption in the water flow in the corners, where one corner has a different flow to it (water hitting a corner will bounce and cause disruption.

    I suspect the far corner would be the easiest way to do this, with the entire apparatus save the part after the far corner being on the floor with a very slight slope, and the ‘support beams’ being truncated, non-load-bearing, except for those directly above the water wheel. One of the real support beams, maybe the far one that is out of sight, may well have a tube within coming from a reservoir on the floor or more likely from below the wheel well.

    To me, this is doable, and much more impressive than any cgi.

  25. LOL all you people dissecting the water flow, light sources, and all the other irrelevant crap. Look at the vertical posts. In particular the first pair right behind the water wheel. On the first level the posts are at the front of the machine. The path goes along until the 2nd angle and those very same posts go behind the angle. Not possible.

    Another way to see how impossible it is.. Note how the 2 sets of 4 pillars going all the way up are front to back in a line. But yet the zigzag is all over the place with those same columns supporting each angle of the path. Duh..

    The machine itself doesn’t even exist. You can not physically build what’s depicted in the video. I don’t know what the big debate is about, it’s obviously CGI.

  26. Loathe as I am to agree with him, I think M4CGYV3R hit it exactly on the head. The pump is the thing that’s got me most confused.

    Anyone who says this is CGI clearly has never actually done any computer modeling or animation. It’s not as easy as they make it look in the movies. A design student would have neither the time nor the funding to make an image that looks as true-to-life as this does.

  27. It’s CGI or a mix of CGI and real. The object was easy to mask into video since all the edges were generally straight and high-contrast. The water flow was too smooth for real life. My opinion.

  28. There is a (not so simple) way to construct a device that achieves this illusion without the need for CG. It uses a modification of [David Goldman]’s idea (one segment longer, so the top cantilever is actually part of the bottom.

    Since the base tapers down as it gets “higher”, you can assume that that uses that taper as a ramp for the water. But rather than a one way ramp, it can be a two way ramp, where the inside draws the water back to a collecting area below the wheel. Simply attach a tube to the top, and then a pump from that pool up the tube. Either use a switch or a timer so the effect seems “continuous” and you are done. Doing it this way also explains why the water went from just a small amount to a giant torrent at the end. For those that say there is no motor sound, that’s easy to cover up, simply record the sound later by turning it off and pouring water yourself.

    Building that is pretty damn hard though, and good CG artists could do it well enough to fool people given enough time.

  29. Everyone who claims that it’s impossible to build, check out the following video:

    The marble illusions should give you a good idea of what a theoretical version of this may look like, but you’ll note that they never actually connect back to the beginning (which is what makes this video neat).

    Forced perspective makes for fun times. As for the water flow: it’s a neat trick. I certainly hope that it wasn’t CGI and was instead some sort of “water valve behind pillar #3″. But my monitor only has 1366×768 resolution so I’m not well suited to spotting visual artifacts.

    The lowest-tech version I could think of would be the version proposed in the article linked above. “Two structures, two cuts, stitched together.”

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