Anamorphic Projection

Anamorphic Projection

Art, Math and Science at first seem like very different subjects, but they are related in variety of ways. Experience the relationship between math and art by creating mind boggling anamorphic illusion art.

Materials & Tools:

Anamorphic Projection
For small scale anamorphic art
  • Simple 3D object (Cube or Pyramid works well)
  • Anamorphic Projection Stand (or a stand with a viewfinder)
  • String
  • Paper
  • Pencil

Anamorphic Projection

For large scale anamorphic art:
  • Cardboard boxes
  • A Pole with a stable base and a viewfinder
  • String
  • Chalk
  • Blue Painter’s Tape or Colorful Duct Tape

Basic Principles Behind Anamorphic Illusion Art

The light rays from each point on the object travel in straight lines to enter the viewer’s eye. If we extend these lines and plot points at where lines intersects with another surface, the resulting image is a central projection of the original object.

If the projection surface is perpendicular to the viewer’s line of sight, the projected image will look like an ordinary perspective drawing.

Anamorphic Projection - Perspective Principle

If the projection surface is not perpendicular to the viewer’s line of sight, then the projected image is an anamorphic projection of the original object.

Anamorphic Projection

Looking from the point of projection, the morphed image loses its distortion and becomes a misleading frame of reference for a viewer to judge the distance.

The stick figures in our sample picture look like they are standing at the same depth of field viewed from a particular point. In reality the person on the left is standing much closer to the viewer thus looks much bigger.  View with a camera or with one eye closed to get the full effect of this illusion.


How to Create Anamorphic Images

There are a number of ways to create anamorphic images.  Here, we are using a string stretched from a stationary viewfinder to points on a object.  Stretched string simulate the light rays traveling from points on an object to the viewer’s eye.

Anamorphic Projection - PD

For small scale anamorphic art:

Relying  on  projective  geometry,  anamorphic  images  can  be  created  using  a  central   projection  to  map  points  from  a  3D  object  to  their  corresponding  locations  in  a  2D   anamorphic  projection.  One  tool  that  can  help  create  these  images  is  an  Anamorphic   Projection  Stand.


  1. Be  sure  the  projection  stand  is  affixed  firmly  to  the  desktop.  It  is  imperative  that  the   center  of  projection  does  not  move  as  you  map  points  from  the  3D  object  to  the  page   where  you’ll  draw  the  anamorphic  projection.  It  is  equally  important  that  the  3D   object  you  are  projecting  remains  in  the  same  location;  it  can  be  moved  only  if  it  is   returned  to  its  exact  original  location-­‐  be  sure  to  begin  by  marking  the  points  on  the   base  of  the  3D  object  so  that  its  original  location  is  marked.
    Anamorphic Projection - Instruction
  2. In  the  viewfinder,  the  center  of  the  eye  hole-­‐  where  the  projection  string  originates-­‐   is  the  center  of  projection.  The  string  is  the  projection  line.  Using  the  string  to  map   points  from  the  3D  object  to  the  desktop,  you’ll  draw  the  3D  image  on  the  desktop   exactly  as  it  appears  to  you  when  you  look  through  the  eye  hole.  In  other  words,  if   an  edge  is  visible  to  you  through  the  eyehole,  then  it  will  also  appear  in  the  drawn   anamorphic  projection;  if  an  edge  is  not  visible  through  the  eyehole,  then  it  will  not   be  drawn  (eg  if  it  is  on  the  back  side  of  the  3D  object  and  thus  occluded).  To  project  a  point,  pull  the  string  taut  so  that  it  just  barely  makes  contact  with  the  3D  object   and  extends  down  to  the  desktop.  Mark  the  point  on  the  desktop  where  the  string   makes  contact-­‐  this  is  the  projected  image  of  the  point  on  the  3D  object.  You  may   want  to  mark  the  points:  for  example,  call  the  point  on  the  3D  object  A  and  its   corresponding  projection  A’  (called  “A  prime”).  Continue  mapping  points  until  you   have  enough  to  reconstruct  the  projected  image.
  3. Connect  the  projected  points  to  form  the  projected  image.  If  two  points  on  the  3D  object  are  connected  by  an  edge,  then  the  two  corresponding  projected  points  will   be  connected  by  an  edge  in  the  projection.  That  is,  if  AB  is  a  line  on  the  3D  image,   then  A’B’  will  be  a  line  in  the  projected  image.
  4. Now  remove  the  string  from  the  eye  hole  and  view  the  projected  image-­‐  it  should  appear  3D.  But  it  will  only  appear  3D  when  viewed  from  that  exact  location,  the   center  of  projection.  Take  a  photo  through  the  eye  hole  to  make  the  3  dimensionality   of  the  image  even  more  convincing.  Adding  color  and  shading  to  the  image  may  also   increase  the  appearance  of  3D.  To  view  the  image  without  the  projection  stand,  note   the  height  of  the  center  of  projection  (this  is  etched  on  the  projection  stands  you   used  in  the  workshop),  and  also  the  distance  between  the  3D  object  and  the  center   of  projection.


Q: What can I use if I do not have a Anamorphic Projection Stand?:

A: You can build a substitute Anamorphic Projection Stand with a ruler, a box and a binder clip. Tape the ruler to the box and add weight to the box if the stand is not stable.

DIY Stand for Anamorphic Projection

Q: What do I do if the object blocks the path of the string?

A: If the string can not be extended from a certain point of the object to the paper, mark the base of the object and pivot the object to clear the path of the string. Make sure to return the object to its original position after mapping the point.

Anamorphic Projection - Rotation

For large scale anamorphic art:

Build a large Anamorphic Projection Stand with a pole and a heavy base.  Following the instructions to create the small anamorphic projection, plot projection points on the ground and connect them to form an image.   Use colorful tapes to outline the image, use chalk to fill each side of object with different color.

Anamorphic Projection

Position the camera at the center of projection (the location of the viewfinder) to take the picture.

Anamorphic Projection

Fleet Science Center


For more information on creating an Anamorphic Projection Stand, please contact Bohdan Rhodehamel at


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