3D-printed optical illusion tricks your eyeballs into perceiving a cube

Whether it’s green strawberries that look red, painted “three-dimensional” road bumps or that argument-provoking dress, we are suckers for a good optical illusion. And 29-year-old Sage Hansen, aka YouTuber 3DSage, created a doozy.

Using a 3D printer, some ingenuity, and a fixed camera, he created a perception-skewing 3D cube that turns out to be anything but. In fact, the apparent cube is just a flat object with three raised pole-like sections jutting out at crazy angles. However, when it’s viewed from the correct angle, the effect is so convincing that our brain doesn’t question what we’re seeing at all. Until a cat comes along and suddenly blows our mind by putting its face through one of the cube’s “solid” edges.

Hansen notes that the cube illusion is an update of the kind of forced perspective chalk art that has done the rounds online for years. This type of illusion, which appears distorted from every angle except one, is referred to as anamorphosis — and actually dates back hundreds of years. One of the most famous early works in this genre is Hans Holbein’s 1533 painting, “The Ambassadors,” which features a 3D-looking skull which appears to be a white smudge from every angle except one. The effect was also employed by Leonardo da Vinci.

3d printed cube optical illusion
3DSage/YouTube
3DSage/YouTube

For Hansen’s creation, though, he used technology a whole lot more at home in the 21st century, although the theory behind the illusion remains the same. He started out by creating a virtual cube using 3D modeling software. Once he had settled on a camera angle he then began manipulating the image — drawing lines at random positions and angles — until he had a largely flat object that nonetheless matched up to his 3D cube. Finally, he printed the piece, shot the video, and uploaded it to YouTube.

The results are definitely eye-catching. While it works a lot better as a filmed effect than it would as, say, a desk ornament, it’s undeniably awesome. Hopefully, at some point, Hansen will share the 3D model online so that others can have a go at creating it for themselves. (Although, having seen how it’s done, it should be fairly straightforward to design your own variation.)