If you’ve ever looked at an Escher print and wondered how the artist could even imagine such an impossible scene, you’re in for a surprise. Optical illusions have gone 3D. They’re not just for paper or simple objects anymore. You can hold a complex Escher scene in your hand, thanks to some inspired software work and the amazing 3D printer.
Graphic artist M. C. Escher produced many famous etchings depicting impossible three dimensional situations: he drew monks walking on stairs that both ascend and descend at the same time, and buildings which appear to involve entangled, unreal structures. He seemingly violated the laws of physics repeatedly. In more basic form, even very simple Moebius strips and Penrose triangles which provide tantalizingly simple but impossible shapes fascinate the viewer with illusion. These scenes make us closely examine them for the trick that must be there.
Researchers at the Technion in Israel have used computers to translate Escher’s visual tricks into three dimensional objects produced by a modern 3D printer. This printer takes their mathematical representations of impossibility and renders them into real and tangible, but still impossible, visual illusions. They still need to be viewed from the right angle, but on display they draw exclamations of amazement.
Talented woodworkers have painstakingly produced Escher-like objects in the past, but the use of 3D printing allows researchers to use special CAD (computer aided design) software manipulations instead. The software “bends the planes” to produce a look that isn’t normal in our world. The computer can produce these transformations quickly on a complex scene. In a way, it’s similar to movie special effects.
Translating an Escher scene from paper to polymers in a 3D model, the computer is using perspective, just as Escher did. From some angles, the object looks more like a Dali painting, drooping in bizarre ways. From certain perspectives, though, the magic illusion appears in 3D. Since it is a real three dimensional object, it has depth and shadow, and gives an even greater mind-bending feeling of “how?” as viewers see an impossible scene in real life.
One of the strengths of 3D printing is the ability to create things from the imagination, built by mathematical models and creative design software. Regular construction and crafting techniques don’t constrain the printer, which can create intricate structures such as Escher’s “Belvedere.” Technion researchers took the magic of Escher and found a way to translate it directly into the real world via computer. Since they’ve made data files available for those who own 3D printers, anyone can create these mysterious Escher objects.
h/t: 3D Printing Event