Animation is the art of tricking the eye, but this is one trick we never would have noticed.

As magically convincing as it may be, even the fluid animation in big-budget theatrical features from Studio Ghibli or Disney is still a trick. It’s an optical illusion, designed to trick your brain into thinking still pictures are moving.

So yes, this video from Japanese Twitter user @jagarikin appears to show two animated cubes spinning around, but it’s a trick as well. However, there’s a trick within a trick here. Watch and see if you can spot it.

It sure looks like those wire-frame cube are spinning around, but keep watching the same corner. Notice how it seems like even though the cube is moving, the front corners never spin all the way to the back, nor the back ones to the front? There’s a reason why, and it’s that the cubes aren’t actually moving at all.

And no, I don’t mean that in the sense of each individual frame being a still image. The actual lines of the cube’s frames, drawn in blue, are in the exact same positions for the entire sequence. Don’t believe it? Here’s the GIF again. Hit play, then let your cursor or finger hover over any blue part.

“I finally finished the optical illusion that makes it look like two three-dimensional cubes are moving,” tweeted @jagarikin. “They look like they’re moving, don’t they? They’re actually not.”

Some commenters still found in incredibly hard to wrap their heads around what was happening, reacting with:

“Wha? They’re totally moving, aren’t they?”
“The truth is that they’re rotating…right? Tell me that’s right!”
“The harder I try to make my brain see them as stopped, the more it looks like they’re moving.
“Gwa! This is terrifying!”

“It feels like they’re both moving and not moving,” tweeted one commenter with a visual analogy.

OK, so what’s the secret to @jagarikin sorcery? It’s something called the reverse phi illusion. In very simplified terms, when our eyes see sudden transitions from either light to dark or dark to light, our brains perceive it as motion happening. Take yet another look at @jagarikin’s GIF, and you’ll notice that the edges of the cubes’ blue frames have a sliver of color to them. Sometimes they’re white, sometimes they’re gray, and sometimes they’re black, and as they’re cycling from one to the next, the video’s background is doing the same thing, and the result is the illusionary “rotation” of the cubes.

The effect is almost hypnotically effective, and the wire-frame adds to it significantly. As mentioned above, even if the cubes appear to be moving, the effect isn’t so strong that any corner ever seemingly rotates all the way from the back to the front, or vice-versa. However, just as warning lights are about to start going off in your head, the wire-frame design allows your brain to interpret the entire perspective differently. For example, at first it might look like the two cubes are sitting on a flat surface and spinning towards each other (i.e. the left one is sinning counter-clockwise and the right one clockwise), only for the perspective to suddenly change and make it seem like now they’re attached to a ceiling and turning in the opposite directions.

One commenter suggests blinking your eyes as you watch the video, saying that makes it easier to realize the blue pixels never change position, but we won’t blame you if you decide instead to just shut your eyes entirely, under the logic that you absolutely can’t trust them anymore.

Source: Twitter/@jagarikin via IT Media, Stanford News Service
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