Escher’s Waterfall Brought to Life

Let me tell you one thing – when you receive exactly the same email from dozen of multiple sources, it means there’s definitely something going on. Luckily nothing bad happened, and it was just another video illusion submission. One I couldn’t ignore, unfortunately. If it wasn’t so complicated extracting those clips, and then optimizing them for articles, they would definitely be my favorite part of this site.

So what’s going on here? One thing about Dutch artist M.C. Escher was his ability to twist our brains with his optical illusions. The “Waterfall”, which was created back in 1961 is an impossible drawing showing what appears to be water running uphill before descending back onto a watermill wheel. You can see how the original looks on paper here. But what if we caught a glimpse of it created in real life? Has McWolles really achieved the impossible? Check the video below to see the physical version of Escher’s Waterfall. It is as if McWolles made one that actually works. Being honest, I just can’t understand where is the catch. Does it have something to do with camera’s angle (it never changes during the video), can it be that CGI was used? It almost gives you brain whiplash just thinking about it!

140 Replies to “Escher’s Waterfall Brought to Life”

  1. yeah, i personally think that it was like that one illusion with the four ramps that look like they slope downwards from where they meet in the middle. i dont remember the exact name of the illusion on this site but i know its out there somewhere. but yeah to cut to the quick i think it had something to do with the camera angle

    1. wait… i jus reald a huge logic hole in my theroy… how could the water fall into the waterwheel if it was…..

    2. It seems like there is more water falling onto the mill then he poured in to begin with. But yes, really, really good!

  2. That’s a darn good illusion.

    I’d guess that at some point, the water disappears out of sight as it goes round a corner and is pumped up one of the columns to reappear at the higher level. As hinted at, like most of these Esher-eske viewpoint is critical so that points that are completely disjointed appear to be connected.

    Watch the shadows very carefully as the guy walks between the light and the construction, and then lowers the jug – you can get some clues to where the disjoint is. I can’t work out where the water flows are inconsistent though.

  3. WOW! That is AWESOME!
    My guess is that: 1. he is using forced persepctive like the other Mighty Optical Illusions of the balls all rolling “uphill” into the middle.
    and 2. He built the entire thing on a concrete “hill” just like my house is on a hill and the front looks small but the back is tall. This way he can keep everything level (or sloping downward), then off from the hill create the waterfall…. hmmm…

    1. Wait. just noticed something else.
      At about 0:48 the water is having a hard time making it “over” the last ramp to the waterfall. His pouring gets the liquid over. Then gravity and the wheel keeps the water pushing “over” the only spot that isn’t exactly level…

  4. I’m freakin laughin my a** off right now!
    Feels like my brain just stopped to work or caught in a loop!
    Need to reset it…

    This video is brilliant!

  5. Thats a tough one. Only way I can see it working is it some sort of angle shot work. It was very odd to see the water flow upward, but very well done in either case.

  6. It can’t just be the camera angle as the water keeps flowing indefinitely so there must be some CGI going on. Very cool though.

  7. there’s obviously camera tricks. and the structure is very espcial, see:
    The base is elevated off of the floor as can be seen clearly in the video.
    The trough is actually either level or very slightly tilted toward the back and left from the perspective of the camera.
    There is no drastic elevation to the zig-zag trough as it appears to possess because of the camera angle.
    The water is not actually falling onto the wheel.
    The water is falling behind the wheel into a pump driven reservoir which supplies the water to the wheel/trough and completes the cycle

  8. The water flow at 46 seconds as it goes along the back is a bit odd, suddenly gets fast then slows down again, so my guess is that the image is split just to the left of the right hand tower and the the fast water is where someone on the right of the split is pooring the water into the trough at the top/back. Also at 46 seconds the water in the bucket on the front right changes from ripples going one way to ripples going another. The shadows are also a bit jumpy, but the guy does more around a lot in a strange bouncy sort of way.

    Good trick though.

  9. There are 2 paralel vertical supports. One right after the watermill and the other at the end of the “canal”.
    1. Where is the 4th leg of the support
    2. how can the “canal” go sideways and up and end back at the first support ????
    Even if the angle of the canal is very small, yet to go right on top of the first support it would have to be 45.

  10. This is the best one I’ve seen lmfao I’m showing all my friends. I almost laughed out loud at work lol Certainly can’t figure it out. It’s not CG. It’s a trick with the layout, but it’s done very well. Really impressive haha

  11. I thought the idea with the Escher original was that the waterwheel pumped the water up hill. This waterwheel clearly doesn’t do that and is only there to be seen spinning when the water drips on it.
    Certainly is a puzzler tho. Reckon others are on the right track about it looking obvious if seen from any other angle.
    Why doesn’t he put more water in to the ramp ? What’s with all the water spilt on the floor – is that a clue ?

  12. We either have a great optical illusion or very good camera manipulation. I’ve looked at it several times and can not come up with a satisfactory answer for myself. All I can say is that it makes a good conversation piece……….

  13. I think its a combination of things – i first though of the angle thing but the shadows do work perfectly when he walks past (multiple angles are due to multiple lights – everything goes together)
    what doesn’t fit is the water wheel – the guy pours a bucket through the hole – nothing happens; a tiny bit of water falls on it and somehow has that thing spinning faster than the camera can tell and assume-ably keeps the motion going…
    the last point can be overlooked – but that wheel is spinning too fast

    CGI(for some of the movement)/Angle+GCI(for the construction)

    damned interesting – but i wouldnt call it an illusion

  14. Actually, I think Simon was correct and there is a section where the water is pumped up to the top (I personally think its that final last little turn immediately before it “falls”)

    Additionally, however, I think the illusion is completed by having the water-wheel actually not turning from the force of the water, but is motorized independantly of the water itself.

    I wish it was clearer, but that’s my theory, the water is close, and “aligned” properly from this capera angle, but is still a bit of angle+perspective trickery involved here.

  15. very cool but it has to be CGI. First, strange things happen with the shadows, they come from several different directions and at one stage his shadow even suddenly disappears. Second, the construction has a weird look to it like it has been added to the picture.

    1. nahhh, i dont think that any CGI is involved, its the camera angle. The shadows are weird coz he has two light sources, one on the left hand side, n one on the right,

  16. I think the lower part of the construction is built on higher ground and the higher part (what seems to be higher) is built on lower ground.

  17. Outstanding. This one and the one with marbles where the marbles appear to climb upwards are the two best ones I have seen, I think.

    I can’t quite ‘crack’ this one, but the structure as portrayed from this angle is clearly impossible. First it goes straight, then turns left 90 deg. But after turning, it is still right on top of where it started – there is not offset due to turn! See the supporting pillars that to through the wheel. Then it turns right and left, but is still exactly on the top of where it started. Na Ga Da. Amazingly inexplicable.

  18. at first i had the same thought as john, but then i ran into the exact same problem.
    ooooooooh my brain hurts. but I’m loving it :P

  19. Excellent! I don’t find watching the shadows in any way revealing. There are at least two light sources. As Simon points out, it’s our viewpoint that makes the illusion work but it’s still very impressive.

  20. I dont have the slightest clue how this is done. But it IS very awesome.
    I would love to place this video on my own website. Is it possible you send me the file on email or on my FTP?

  21. i think it was just a video effect. since the second ramp turns around 90 degrees left yet the post from the first ramp still support the second ramp. that is impossible. and for me, those post create the illusion. cause mathematically the top part of the structure could not have a 90 degrees upward angle, and that’s how those posts created that illusion.

  22. Here’s my thoughts. What you think is a tower is actually flat going from front of screen towards the door (like the way they paint logos on sportts fileds for TV). One of the uprights is actually upright and contains a tube connected to a pump. You’ll see the guy put his arm out of shot on left hand side, which is when I thin k he turns on the pump.
    I’m an Escher fan and think this is great!!

  23. I think I can get my head around the “how” just from other video’s we have seen that show us the forced perspectives and the way stuff can be cut to make it look like it goes behind other parts and pieces.
    Gotta give the dude his props though for who knows HOW many hours of designing, fabricating, filming and everything else that went into this for an excellently done 80 second payoff.

  24. The water is actually flowing downhill. The trough is on the floor the whole way back to that doorway about 5 feet back there. The vertical sticks look like they are part of the trough but they are not. They are different pieces of wood of various lengths and in different places, but look like they are continuous vertical pieces. The only part of the trick that is not an illusion is that there is a pump that brings some of the water up one of the sticks to pour off the lip, which is really above the water wheel.

  25. Has anyone noticed that the front two legs line up with the corner of the second row; which means the second row is much further forward than it appears it should be.

  26. i totally understad now!!!if you look at the sides of it you can tell that its going downwards…and at the beging of the waterfall it stands taller than the rest then goes down and at the first corner of it it goes down and in the middle of it ,it looks like its the same and when it hits the very end of it ,it goes back down to the spinning wheel and that sputters the water to make it go back again…to me its like a water cycle:)

  27. FREAKIN AWESOME! I stuck this video into adobe after effect and watched it fram by frame. SPOILER the break point is the left-hand collumn of the right hand overhang thing (top, not bottom) as he walks accross the first time, his shadow distictly appears on the wood immediately to the left of that post. so that top section is directly over the bottom, and the rest is flat on the ground. I’m can’t say for sure how he did the water from there, but to me it seems too good for CGI. I guess he could have put a motor on the wheel and computerized the water, but I’d guess he ran a hose up the back of the very far left collumn, accross the back of the trough, and had it come out where the ‘break’ is.

    But it’s still incredibly impressive. Great find!!!

  28. It’s obviously anti-gravity fluid he’s using. You can tell by the color and the way he needs to mix it at the beginning. Funny stuff, you mix it too much and it will pour right out of the top of the jug.
    Wonderful clip.

  29. it’s painted!!! i mean at least a part of the “machine” is painted & the whole thing touches the floor! There are no 2nd or 3rd floors… i can’t explain why the wheel turns though…

  30. I think the design is not vertical, its horizontal and water is flow not on the wheel but on its side and he has blower in his hand where he is sittign to move the wheel.

  31. Well, so I think that is a computer desing, the water flow it’s like a loop, it never changes, and the shadowns too come from several ways, so if we look with more atention we can see that he’s using a solid color background…

    But anyway, it’s a great work. it have a great realistic level.

  32. Fantastic illusion!

    I agree with the comments about watching the shadows – it’s a bit disjointed. But then we knew it had to be, even without the water!

    I think that the zigzag water path is one piece – the movement of the water around the corners seems genuine. The columns can easily be cut off where they seem to go behind.

    The way that the water wheel at first doesn’t move, then starts spinning like it is powered by an electric motor makes it look like, well, like it is powered by an electric motor… ;-)

    I’m not sure how the waterfall works if the water path is all down near the floor, so maybe the path is up high, although he sure looks like he is pouring it in near the floor.

    Maybe the box where he pours the water is on the floor, and it is then pumped up to the top at the start of the water chute? The water wheel could be hiding the joint.

    However it is done, it’s a really nice illusion. Very well done!

  33. Right I think I’ve sorted some of it. Look at the column 2nd right from the wheel. Clearly it can’t be the way it appears. sS the top of the column is just cut off to make it look like a support. Now you can see that the 2nd trough actually runs across the floor. And the 3rd trough will do the same.
    There seems to be something odd in the way the water flows from the 3rd trough in to the 4th and final one. I suspect that at this point the water runs off the end of the 3rd trough and on to the floor. The flow is resumed (almost seamlessly) by water being pump up to the 4th trough (at a higher level) from a reservoir in the large base unit under the wheel. This could be achieved using a small tube hidden behind one of the columns.
    The pump mechanism being battery driven and operated by remote control just at the right moment. As the base unit reservoir can only hold a limited amount of water he has to stop the recording before it runs out.

  34. Seems to me that there are (at least) 2 different images superimposed on one another; one with the ramp that carries the liquid, and maybe another with the liquid pouring down onto the wheel.
    If you look at the construction, it’s even “built” in Escher’s impossible style, so it doesn’t exist the way we see it.
    Something’s funny with the way the shadows fall; also, look at the reflection in the water on the ground (to the right).

  35. its a good illusion.
    but, just follow the light source from bottom right of this video then we can see the actual shadow of the construction, is different from the waterfall we see.

    1. lol. this is funny.
      the structure of the wood is acually going away from the camra. in other words, its going away from us, and the guy just got everything lined up exactly right. it didn’t take me long to figure that out. =D

  36. It is a good illusion but nobody uses any thinking outside the box.

    Its all in the construction of the model and the angle of the camera. It may LOOK as though the watercourse rises but in reality it descends and the angles that your mind assumes are 90 degrees are not. If you could shift your viewing angle even a little bit the illusion would be lost.

  37. I don’t know if this means anything or not. I might have it all wrong but when the guy initially sets the camera and turns his back to move the blue container on the ground he looks much bigger then after he disappears to the right of the screen and reappears to fill the container. Also, as somebody stated previously, when he is to the left of the camera his shadows are not constant. I think there is a mirror or a picture of the apparent towers that covers the upper left of the illusion setup.

  38. Nice illusion, but fairly obvious. The ramp is nearly flat to the floor. You can see that the sides of the ramp gradually shorten towards the back. When his shadow passes in front, you can tell that most of the columns and false front sides to the ramps are in a vertical plane. Its all in the camera angle. The waterfall itself is most likely created by a pump and a reservoir hidden in the front part of the ramp, with tubes going up behind the columns to the top of the false front.

  39. why is the water a difrent color? maby so that it shows up on the wood. or maby it has some thing to do with the illusion. and if you look closley, the place where the water starts, is bigger than the top of the struckture. i think that the place where the water thavels through is comepletly on the ground. the pillars are there to fool us. and maby the distance from the yellow mill and the top is as long as we think it is.[img]C:\Users\Nathan\Pictures\School\sceince\C.JPG[/img]

    1. why is the water a difrent color? maby so that it shows up on the wood. or maby it has some thing to do with the illusion. and if you look closley, the place where the water starts, is thicker than the top of the struckture. i think that the place where the water thavels through is comepletly on the ground. the pillars are there to fool us. and maby the distance from the yellow mill and the top is not as long as we think it is.

  40. ha ha, good illusion and a good pumping water system too, the camera angle is just for the instruction shape not about the warter flowing. Look carefully how water flows near the columns, it is not smoothly, unfortunately, this illusion and the slopedown ” magnet like illusion” only work on screen…at a specific angle

  41. the explaination at “boing boing” is likely correct, still it is quite a startling effect. The only give away to me occurs late in the video and at the farthest away “corner” ( behind a pillar)just befor the water falls. The water levels on either side of the Pillar are noticabley different, higher comming out of the corner, compared to going into the corner. If the explaination is correct the water terminates behind the pillare and the “waterfall” is actually in the forground and elevated, but perspective makes it look continuous with the end of the canal.

  42. I’m surprised at the small number of comments, this is a great illusion. I would say it’s the first time a remake of one of the old classic illusions has really blown my mind.

    As for the construction, I would say take a close look at the shadows on the floor. It appears there are two towers, one large in the front, and one smaller at the back. When the person walks in front of the light, it seems that he only casts a shadow on the parts of the construction belonging to the larger tower at the front.

    As for the waterflow, I would guess that some water pumps and some timing is involved in order to make it appear to flow seamlessly across the structure.

    It’s a pity the construction is not revealed, this is an incredible build.

  43. i think that it is based on the ancient Chinese method of transporting water; where they forced the water to run uphill using gravity and force

  44. The man is obviously a master carpenter. Observe the wood pieces and where they pass seemingly from front to rear tower. Also the steps cut in the retaining walls, creating the illusion of elevation when in fact the run is downhill. They are getting lower while appearing to go up. Is the back tower really in the back? The shadow cast by one or both towers seem to be devoid of any structures, just a tall empty structure. Lighting and angle is everything here. A beautifully constructed work of art indeed.

    1. Check out the right pillar on the left (the first tower) in the link of the possible explanation that pillar is in the forefront, but in the video it’s behind the flow. I don’t think the tower can actually be three stories tall if that is correct but 1 story in three locations.

      either way the water falling back down must be a in a separate shot then I guess…

  45. Notice the flow rate of the water the first time it flows between turn 3 and turn 4. The initial flow rate is the rate at which he is pouring the water out of the pitcher, but then the water speeds up due to the flow rate of the pump.

  46. that place befor where the water first turns is probly longer that the place before the second turn[img][/img]

  47. [img][/img][img][/img]

  48. noticed the water flowing back at the upper right turn?
    That is where the gadget ended and hints the upper left part is NOT connected to that part.

  49. At 0:33, when the guy passes in front of the structure, his shadow only covers the tower on the left… tower on the right is not “influeced” by him passing… strange

  50. Something like Steve said, between seconds 33 & 34 the shadow cover just the mid frontal part of the structure, and between 34 & 35 cover the back, that means that is not a full structure, would be 2 different parts.

    Can’t say exactly how was constructed but is obvious that they use some kind of illusion relative to the angle of the camera, and i can guess that the top of the waterfall was fulfilled by another source.

  51. The problems I have with it are that if you look the structure is not possible. When the ramp goes out and to the left but still manages to be right on top of the starting point. Also if you look closely it appears to be floating obviously this is CGI

  52. Its strange and all, but one thing is sure. There is another source of water after he pour that cup because there is no sorta endless moving machine yet, if there was our power crysis would be over.

    1. The “Mystery Hill” videos continue to confuse me. I mean, yes it’s a convincing illusion and I respect that, but why do people always act so surprised when stuff falls ‘uphill?’ You’d think most people would immediately jump to the conclusion that they’re not actually standing upright. I don’t know about you, but I notice when my feet are at different heights.

    2. nah – ive been there and you dont notice your feet are that off… to this day i dont get it…
      in the last shot on youtube the ball goes from shoulder high to over 10 feet up… if it was just the viewer at an angle… theyd be at such an angle they would fall – has to be magnets… but they obviously deny it

    3. Actually the “mystery hill” illusion is easily explained. What appears to be uphill is actually slightly downhill. It appears to be uphill because of the angle that we see it, and our brain mistaking it, compared to the rest of the environment.

  53. I think I have got it. Look where he pours the water into. It is obviously built up much higher then the rest of the structure The ramps are built on a slight decline as when the water flow coming in is a fast flow.When it reaches the last ramp it has gained enough speed but to flow slows as it runs slightly up hill to give the illusion that the water is dropping from a higher point but it’s not that high. The camera shot is shooting down making it look the way it appears. He also gives it away walking in front and away. Look again and you will see it too!

  54. That is kinda easy. We agree with Pamela. I thought he would pour it on the “top” and it would go “down”, but instead he pured it on the “bottom” and it went to the “top.”

  55. It’s really cool. But I think that the guy who made it said on Youtube that it was fake. He did it by capturing 3 scenes and Merging them together.

  56. too fun!!! i can spot a couple of tiny flaws in the lineup, but for the most part it gives the appearance of water running uphill–isn’t there a physics problem with that? lol

  57. There’s a clue in the shadows. When he walks past it, his shadow goes past the 2 towers in the reverse order. When he walks from right to left, the left pillar gets shadowed first, for instance.

  58. If you have a good ear, you may have noticed that the sound of the water hitting the floor sounds more like concrete than wood. One of the pillars may very well camouflage a tube that gives a secondary water source. It is a good piece of art, I admit, because so many people come up with so many different hypothesis. See if you can use this same concept with a solid item, such as marbles, or bebes. The liquid water is too hard to track.

    1. yes, well i guess your right about that but if you look closer you can see the the floor is not leveled correctly, see.

  59. If you look at the explanation given my the CREATOR of the video (not some random web comment), he basically took two video clips and merged and editted them to make it look like the illusion…

    i.e. It isn’t some funky structure that takes advantage of a 2D projection on the video… he cheated and used software to make it work…

    1. watch the shadows. the middle section is at a different height then the other two. when he walks by there’s no shadow on the middle section, also the top of the left tower is bent

  60. it is the cams angle the thing is lying flat on the ground (the wooden thing) and the cams tilted its obvious with some thought!!!!!

  61. The structure is actually above ground and the angle of the camera is focused so that it seems like the structure is flowing upwards. There is proof of this by looking at the water reflection where you notice that you can actually see the bottom of the structure

  62. Escher’s Waterfall Brought to Life | Mighty Optical Illusions, seemed to be a terrific post title to
    give this article. Exactly where can I actually learn more pertaining to this?

  63. i think ur all thinking too complex

    i think its just gonna be something like a hidden hose pipe or a pump. its gonna be somethink simple.

  64. I just stumbled upon this. I am still trying to figure it out and I love it. I am examining everything in the scene that is unnecessary. The extra bucket–maybe it is a different size to help create the illusion. We assume the upright sticks of the structure are continuous and parallel. I love it! Why stir the dye? He was careful to never let his shadow fall on the structure. The vertical elements in the background are interesting as well. I think this is a true optical illusion.

  65. To all comments above the answer to the waterfall is….

    there are two waterfalls, and yes you have to see it from a certain angle

  66. I have two Escher drawings hanging up in my room. Now to see one in action is just kind of… well… wow. I know it is an illusion and illusions are basically tricking the brain.

    One thing to keep in mind is that we are seeing the video in two dimensions and our brains are trying for perspective based on other experience. If we were to be standing there it might be clear to us how it works.

    However, I enjoy illusions, love Escher’s work and am not even bothering trying to figure it out.

    This is just awesome and I rated it five stars. :)

  67. its just the waterwheel that pushes the water upwards and the upper part of the water fell down and spin the waterwheel that pushes the water upwards…..

    1. how about the begin of the video? the water was going upwards without that it touches the wheel

  68. Mechanism is actually simple, although the construction is well done: what is seen as vertical pylons are not actually pylons, but only parts of them, completed by separate pieces of wood simulating the construction. Proves of that are two: “strange” distribution of the man’s shadow in the first seconds, and angles problems of the left pylon resulting from different distance/perspective of the elements. The water construction in fact lays on the floor, but its ending is visually overlapped by the separate source of water, provided by the leftmost vertical “sticks”. It also visually hides the hole in the floor where water goes to. I think that for visually natural effect the left edge of the second line (after firs turn) and the right edge of the third line (after second turn) are “doubled” by pieces of wood, that “fly” in the air, supported by two leftmost and two rightmost vertical sticks. The former are 2/3 high, the latter 3/3. They are the core elements keeping the whole construction stable and attractive. The rest is cut to the shadow lines. Good work anyway :-)

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