Over the break I finally got around to watching ‘Andrus: The Man, The Mind and the Magic’ – a DVD documentary about the renowned master of illusion, Jerry Andrus. Try his amazing Tri-Zonal Space Warper for yourself, and find out more.
If you haven’t seen Jerry’s Tri-Zonal Space Warper before, play the following video at full screen (and try looking at the back of your hand as well as the moon at the end of the clip).
The illusion works because of a fundamental feature of human vision. Your brain contains cells that only respond when you encounter movement. Constantly bombard these cells with movement in a certain direction, as Andrus did with his ‘Tri-zonal Space Warper’, and they soon start to tire. When the rotating spiral is stopped, the cells attempt to return to their resting state, but overshoot their central position, giving rise to the illusory perception of movement in the opposite direction. A simple version of this effect was first described by the Greek philosopher Aristotle when he stared at a waterfall and then turned his attention to the foliage at its side, only to see the greenery apparently moving upwards. The effect has been known about for thousands of years, but it took the genius of Andrus to transform this perceptual curiosity into something that makes people shriek in delight and terror. A version of the illusion is now in almost every science center in the world.
Jerry Andrus died aged 89 from prostate cancer in 2007, but lived a remarkable life. Unable to throw anything out, his ‘Castle of Chaos’ was jammed floor to ceiling with tools, props, and inventions, resulting in guests having to walk single file along narrow gangways surrounded by mountains of debris. Described as ‘a cross between Albert Einstein and Walt Disney’ and ‘the Thomas Edison of magic’, Jerry invented some of the world’s greatest optical illusions and pioneered a unique form of magic.
‘Andrus: The Man, The Mind and the Magic’, is a documentary film by Robert Neary and Tyson Smith. A mix of great archive footage, incredible illusions, and interviews with Jerry’s friends (including James Randi, Ray Hyman, Jamy Ian Swiss and Michael Shermer), it is a wonderful 78 minutes of viewing. Over the years I was fortunate enough to spend time with Jerry at several conferences and meetings, and the film does a wonderful job of capturing both the spirit and genius of this unique individual. I loved it.
I suspect that it isn’t going to make its makers much money. Instead, a group of people got together and created something important just for the love of it. They deserve our support and so, if you like illusions, magic, or science, take a look at the DVD.
Here is the trailer.