Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Elephant No. 353: Anamorphosis

When researching mirrors a few days ago, I came across the principle of anamorphosis, which is something I've never really tried before. Anamorphosis—from the Greek ana (again) and morphe (shape)—involves distorting an image such that either a special device or specific vantage point is required to make visual sense of the image.

There are two primary types of anamorphosis. Mirror or "catoptric" anamorphosis requires a cylindrical or conical mirror to view a distorted flat image. Perspective or "oblique" anamorphosis requires that the viewer stand at a certain angle or distance to view the image. Perspective anamorphosis is most often used in sidewalk drawings and on the painted ceilings of cathedrals, palaces and stately homes. Interestingly, anamorphosis has also been used to "hide" erotic, mystical or scatalogical scenes for the delectation of the initiated.

Two views of the same work by Felice Varini,
illustrating the importance of vantage point in
some anamorphic art.

The earliest known example of anamorphic perspective is Leonardo's Eye, drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in 1485. Other Renaissance artists used similar visual tricks, and by the seventeenth century, Baroque artists were using anamorphosis extensively to create large-scale trompe l'oeil murals. 

Baroque ceiling of the Church of San Ignacio de Loyola, Rome, using perspective
anamorphic techniques.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, anamorphosis was demoted from fine art to a novelty, aimed particularly at children. By the early twentieth century, however, artists such as Marcel Duchamps and Salvador Dalí were experimenting with anamorphic illusions, and various artists have continued to play with anamorphosis ever since. In addition to works of fine art, anamorphosis has also returned as an educational toy for children.

Anamorphic trompe l'oeil wall mural by John Pugh.

Anamorphosis is also used in widescreen film formats. This allows a wider image to be projected from a narrower film frame. Anamorphosis is used as well in text written on roadways and playing fields.

For today's elephant, I decided to play with catoptric anamorphosis. If you look online, you can find instructions for turning a drawing into a catoptric image using a grid. I looked at these and puzzled over them, thinking I should maybe try to do this old-school. Then I decided that they were beyond my meagre mapping abilities, if I hoped to finish this within a single day. If you're braver than I, you can find instructions for drawing a catoptric image here.

There are also software packages you can download that will convert a basic image into something catoptric. I tried downloading a Mac-based one called "Mirror 1", but I couldn't get it to work properly, no matter what I tried.

Then I remembered that I have Adobe Illustrator. This particular software package has a function that allows you to warp an image into an arc, so I decided to try that.

The next challenge was finding something shiny and cylindrical. This is not as easy as one would think. I looked in educational shops for an anamorphic kit for children. No luck—in fact, I got blank stares when I tried to describe it.

Next I tried a couple of hardware stores to see if I could find a sheet of shiny tin. None of it was shiny enough, and I wasn't sure that even polishing the heck out of it would make it all that mirror-like.

Then I saw a very shiny stainless steel mug in the grocery store. This seemed quite shiny when I put my hand against it, so that's what I chose. It's not all that slim, so I wasn't sure how well it would work, but it was the closest thing I could find. I noticed afterwards that it's not as glassy as I'd thought, and it has a few distortions, but it wasn't horrible.

I started with the suncatcher elephant I made yesterday. Here is the photo I started with, followed by the catoptric version.

And here's what it looked like reflected in my stainless steel mug.

Being quite happy with this, I tried several more:

my repoussé elephant

my silhouette elephant

my Fauvism elephant

my pencil elephant 

and my robot elephant.

Once I figured out how to do this, it was a piece of cake. My particular method was as follows:

1. Open your chosen image in Adobe's Creative Suite Illustrator. I used Illustrator 11.

2. Go to Effect, then Warp, then Arc.

3. Set Bend to -92. This gave me the shape I wanted, but you can play with this on the sliding scale.

4. Because this will give you a reverse/upside-down image, you now need to rotate the image. I did this by going to Object, then Transform, then Rotate. I set the rotation to 180˚. 

5. And because the image will generally be quite large, you now need to size it down. I did this by dragging the corners of the onscreen blue box until the blank half-circle at the top measured about the same as the half-circumference of my coffee mug. You can stretch or compress the image as well by changing the proportions of the box.

I'm no expert in Illustrator, but this was the process I used for all the images here, and it worked out quite well. I had to move the mug around a bit to get a non-distorted image, and I needed a slightly taller mirrored surface for the Fauvism elephant, but I was generally happy with the results.

As regular readers of this blog have probably guessed, I like toys and optical illusions, so this little exercise was tailor-made for someone like me. The hardest part was finding something suitably shiny. The next hardest part was figuring out the parameters for distorting the images, but even that only took about half an hour.

I don't think I need a library of these types of things, but I'm happy to have this small selection. In fact, I may even inflict something similar on people as gifts, now that I know where to find a shiny coffee mug.

Elephant Lore of the Day
During the late nineteenth century, Gypsy the elephant was a well-known circus performer. She could play the harmonica and do many other tricks, and appeared quite gentle and amenable in the ring.

Despite her apparent good nature in public, however, Gypsy was actually a mass-murderer with an infamous reputation for killing trainers and keepers. Over a period of sixteen years, Gypsy killed at least eight men before she was finally euthanized.

It also appears that Gypsy's murders were often premeditated. The date of her first killing is unknown, but the first to appear in the newspapers occurred in 1885, when she was performing under the name "Empress" with the Adam Forepaugh Circus. According to a couple of published newspaper accounts, Gypsy had been restless and anxious in her enclosure, trumpeting loudly and swaying. Keepers were at a loss to determine what was wrong. She had been fed, so one of the keepers thought she might be thirsty.

Despite being warned that Gypsy was unpredictable, a keeper named Robert White said he could handle her, and entered her enclosure. Gypsy was calm and quiet as White unwound the chains around her legs. She obediently followed him towards the exit of the enclosure, then suddenly snorted, raised her head, and sent White sprawling with a heavy blow from her trunk. She hit him again with her trunk, then raised her front leg and stamped on his chest.

As White lay there moaning, accounts differ as to what Gypsy did next. One report said that she picked him up and tossed him against the wall, disembowelling him. Other reports said that she stabbed him with one of her tusks. Given that female Asian elephants don't have noticeable tusks, the former is more likely. Gypsy was eventually subdued by a man carrying a spear, led back into her enclosure and chained.

Poster for the W.H. Harris circus, featuring Gypsy and a baby elephant—although
not her own baby.

Killing a man was usually cause to put an elephant to death back then, but Gypsy was spared. She was sold to another circus, where her periodic killing spree continued. She also had no compunction about injuring those who offended her. One night, a circus worker removed a bit of Gypsy's hay to make a bed for himself. Gypsy watched as he did this, waited until he was asleep, then picked him up and tossed him against the wall.

After a public rampage in 1897, Gypsy was slated for public electrocution. She was reprieved yet again, when circus owners decided that the publicity made her more valuable than ever. People even began trading on her murderous reputation, suggesting that she would be a good weapon to Cuban insurgents fighting "the Spaniards" on rough mountainous terrain. The letter offering Gypsy to New York-based Cuban insurgents ended with, "If Hannibal found elephants useful in battle, why should not Gomez conquer with Gypsy?"

Gypsy remained in the United States, however, and continued to perform in circuses. She still performed beautifully and willingly, but balked at public parades and often became difficult in her enclosure. One day, however, her luck ran out.

During a parade through Valdosta, Georgia in November 1902, Gypsy took a wrong turn somewhere along the route. Her trainer James O'Rourke was mounted on her back, but had been drinking heavily for the previous 24 hours. Somehow he veered away from the main parade and ended up on a side street. As the crowds shouted that the parade was that-a-way, O'Rourke tried to turn Gypsy, then promptly fell off.

As O'Rourke lay on the ground, Gypsy paused, as though waiting for him to remount. Suddenly, however, she knelt on top of him, crushing every bone in his body. She then rolled him for a distance of about fifty metres with her trunk.

As people tried to corral Gypsy, she got more and more agitated, smashing walls, tossing bricks into the air, and even grabbing a lighting pole in her trunk and shaking it until lights flew everywhere. Eventually she was drawn into a public park, where Police Chief Calvin Dampier took aim with his rifle. Although he had hit her three times, it was only enough to madden Gypsy even more. She took off again, but was eventually cornered a short time later. This time it took only one shot to end her life.

There isn't any information about why Gypsy had become so mean. Training methods were barbaric for elephants back then, so Gypsy may have simply decided that humans were the enemy. She may have had an untreated injury or infection that caused enough pain to madden her. Renowned for her great intelligence, Gypsy may also have just been too sensitive by nature to tolerate the injustice of life in a turn-of-the-century circus. Then again, she may simply have been angry by nature.

Gypsy (standing) with a younger elephant and her
trainer, Fatty Shea, 1894.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Fauna & Flora International 

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