M.C. Escher’s Perpetual Motion Waterfall Brought to Life: Real or Sleight of Hand?

Since M.C. Escher bent minds in the 20th century with his Möbius strips, metamorphoses, and impossible objects, other artists have been trying to bring his creations to life. And the advent of computer illustration, then animation, has made it all the more possible.

In the real, “meatspace” world of organic things, it’s a little bit harder. In January 2011, a YouTuber by the name of “mcwolles” posted the video above. In it, a man pours water in a scale model of Escher’s 1961 Waterfall. The contraption, using blue water, actually seems to work. The water runs uphill through several sharp angles and finishes by tumbling off the top into the paddlewheel below, where its begins its journey again. “Mcwolles” ends the video staring into the camera as he tries to find the off switch…but also dares viewers to figure out how he did it.

Escher, Waterfall 1961

Creative Commons image via Wikipedia

The Internet had a viral freakout—check out the 9.3 million views—and promptly set about trying to offer solutions. “Look how the shadows fall!” several people pointed out. The locked-down camera was another clue.

In May of 2011, “mcwolles” offered a 360 tour of the creation in his garage that offered some suggestions, and that was all that was needed for user “LookingMercury3D” to offer their explanation of how the trick was done. (Hint: editing).

Since then, “mcwolles” has only posted two more videos: one of him losing weight and one of a dog having its way with a stuffed animal. Maybe he’s busy working on his next piece of Escher-inspired art.


Related content:

Metamorphose: 1999 Documentary Reveals the Life and Work of Artist M.C. Escher

The Genius of J.S. Bach’s “Crab Canon” Visualized on a Möbius Strip

Inspirations: A Short Film Celebrating the Mathematical Art of M.C. Escher

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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