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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