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How Do Painters Make The Eyes Follow You?

10/09/2006 12:37 PM

Here's an Art/Science related question: How do portrait painters achieve the effect where the eyes in the painting seem to follow you wherever you stand to view it?

The Mona Lisa is considered to be an example of this technique. Did Leonardo da Vinci use geometry to create this effect?

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#1

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/09/2006 2:55 PM

There may be more to it than this, but my take on it is that once the eyes in the painting, photograph, whatever, appears to look at the viewer, they will appear to look at the viewer from any direction (where the eyes are still visible, of course).

I think when the eyes are accentuated, the effect is more noticeable, maybe...

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/10/2006 3:02 AM

I often used to think about this, I always remember a picture my uncle had of 'Uncle Sam', the old 'your country needs you!' one. The finger appeared to point at you wherever you were in the room! This bugged me enough that when I studied geometry I took a course on optical illusions. If I remember correctly, this is an effect created by a 2 dimensional image that appears 3 dimensional. It is the illusion of depth that makes it appear to 'point', or 'look' at the observer, and because it's two dimensional, it look's the same from any angle. The better the illusion of depth, (or the better the artist execution) the better the effect. I hope this helps alleviate the feelings of being watched!

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#4
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Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/10/2006 3:18 AM

As a post script, I hadn't realised how much a simple printed image had influenced my choices in later life. It makes me wonder how many people have had a similar experience over such a mundane occurrence.

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#20
In reply to #1

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

03/07/2007 9:16 PM

Indeed, it's a known ancient technique, to paint decorative eyes in shops to deter thieves

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#2

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/10/2006 2:47 AM

I think it's to do with the fact that your mind is interpreting a two dimensional image in a three dimensional world. See image below.

Your brain adds depth to the image along your line of sight so matter where you look at the image from your brain add the third dimension away from you and hence the eyes appear to be looking at you.

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#5
In reply to #2

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/10/2006 3:40 AM

It's simple. Draw two circles on a wall. Fill in two dots. Stand back and think of them as eyes. Wonder about and watch them follow you. Then ask your self how you achieved this and don't ask the artist. We are busy letting you know how easy it could be if you only trusted your eyes and used them as a tool more often, and not as two holes in the head succing up images. Give it a go. Ky.

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#6
In reply to #2

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/10/2006 4:00 AM

Yup! Even if you want to say the painters (and photograpers) are "doing" something other than just clicking.

Funny thing though...I noticed that this phenomenon can be "overcome" by some subjects. First observed it when once I was looking at a framed photo portrait of a bipolar person in relapse. Next to it was a portrait of a relation not afflicted. The gaze of the relation followed me around the room as expected; and it was this (proximity of the portraits) that caused me to notice that the afflicted person's gaze did not follow me, no matter how I moved or tried to "make eye contact." It was as if the inward (or vacuous) gaze had been faithfully recorded by the camera. Since the film camera doesn't lie, this aberration, I concluded, must have been induced by the visage of the subject.

One wonders, then, if this absense of normal, omnidirectional subject gaze focus might also be evident in the self-portrait works of certain artists known to have suffered mental abnormalities? Or whether the "dys-phenomemon" might be useful for diagnostic screening of potential, incipient, or active psychoses? Even of the sort that lead to criminal or terroristic predispositions?

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#7

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/10/2006 9:35 AM

Another illusion commonly painted is the scene of the bridge that always seems to angle toward you whether viewed from the right, left or center.

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#8

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/10/2006 10:49 AM

Any painting or photograph is obviously 2 dimensional. Whatever, the gaze or direction of gaze captured in the moment is preserved forever. The fact that the viewer is looking at the image in a 3 dimensional world does not change this. Therefore, it is simply a matter of the subject's gaze at the moment the image is captured. If the subject is gazing directly at the camera lens or the artist represents the gaze in a similar fashion, the eyes will always follow you, because the angle never changes. The viewer's angle changes, but the subject's gaze is always directly forward from within a 2 dimensional image, always appearing to be looking at the viewer, when in reality, the viewer is adjusting to compensate. Conversely, in an image where the subject is not gazing directly at the lens or the artist, the gaze will NEVER meet the viewer's as it is 2 dimensional, and frozen forever. Look at a photograph where the subject is looking slightly off to the side. Move toward that side, can you do so enough to meet the subject's eyes? No, never. You are simply viewing the same image of the same angle, from different angles outside of the image. The subject will ALWAYS gaze in the same direction. If it is at the viewer, it will ALWAYS be at the viewer, if it is not, it will NEVER be.

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#9

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/10/2006 1:41 PM

Yes, I looked into scientific research wherein James Todd said, "No matter what angle you look at a painting from, the painting itself doesn't change. You're looking at a flat surface. The pattern of light and dark remains the same. We found that our visual perception of a picture also remains largely unchanged as we look at it from different vantage points. If a person in a painting is looking straight out, it will always appear that way, regardless of the angle at which it is viewed."

Jorrie said the same.

To verify I looked at James Todd picture from a different angle. He always appears to look at me!

You may also experiment with this:

Incidentally, I am checking if pictures/graphics can be inserted with the contents.

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#10

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/11/2006 5:03 AM

Here's a similar question - at least for those folks who have seen this particular illusion at Disneyland/Disney World's Haunted Mansion: how does that three-dimensional bust sitting in the alcove appear convincingly to turn its entire head and watch you as you pass? And no, it is not actually moving, as several people watching it simultaneously from different vantage points will all tell you it is watching them as well. How does this illusion work? (the answer is elegantly simple.)

BTW, I'm seriously considering getting one of these to put in my kitchen. Right next to the cookie jar. --Europium

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/11/2006 3:03 PM

never saw the illusion(s) but let me guess:

Either by moving the background; or (more likely) by placing something (something vertical mostly) between the back of the bust and the alcove wall...to accentuate the virtual impression of relative (rotational) movement of the the alcove wall vis-a-vis the observer, who then interprets (misinterprets) that motion as the motion of the bust (because he/she is "focused" on the bust's eyes and only sensing the surrounding motions peripherally, so to speak)?? A kind of "misdirection" trick, to use magicians' vernacular? A sort of parallax trick to use the scientist's vernacular.

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#12
In reply to #10

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/12/2006 5:53 AM

...or the wall of the alcove could contain reflective elements (say: a concave array of vertical mirror (strips); a curved mirror with opaque artifacts in front; or something similar) arranged such that, as one moved from normal to an oblique angle from the bust's (actual, face-to-face) true gaze, one would catch glimpses of one's self (of one's own gaze) reflected (behind the bust) from the alcove wall. When one's own reflection was thus seen directly behind the bust, one's cognitive-perceptual processes would take over to make the witnessed scene factual--even if fictitious. Said another way: if, while looking straight ahead, my gaze meets that of my reflection gazing straight back, and also the reflection of the unturned back of "another's" head in my line of sight--and if also I had seen that head's eyes gazing at mine shortly before during a brief time continuum--then my innate perceptive faculties (subconciously some might say) would instinctively inform my rational faculties that the head had turned (as it were, so as) to keep my concepts of reality intact.

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/14/2006 11:24 PM

The bust is concave.

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#14
In reply to #13

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/15/2006 6:25 AM

You mean, concave like smash-faced? Or concave like the inside of a mask mold?

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#15
In reply to #14

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/16/2006 2:54 AM

Concave in the sense of the interior of half a clamshell mold used to make an ordinary, convex bust.

Having never seen a concave face, the brain unconsciously demands the face be convex in the usual sense: the nose protrudes, the eyes are recessed, and so forth. With this automatic assumption in hand, the brain then interprets the unusual perspective of the inverted geometry as motion.

Let's assume you are walking past an ordinary (convex) bust facing outward from an alcove on your left. As you approach the alcove, you see the right side of its face and, to a lesser extent, the left side as well. The extent to which the right side dominates depends on how close (or not) the bust is to the front of the alcove. If the bust is somewhat recessed, you won't see it until you are closer, at which time you'll tend to see the bust more in semi-profile. As you pass in front, you see the face centered in your field of view. Continuing past, you again come to view the bust in semi-profile, but this time the left side of its face dominates. Your correct overall impression is that the bust is stationary. It never once occurs to your brain that the face is anything but convex. Now, to make things interesting, let's invert the geometry.

Again, you're approaching the alcove on your left and the bust comes into view. But this time the dominant view is of the left side of its face with the right side visible to a lesser degree. Crossing in front of the bust, the face appears centered as before. Continuing onward, you again come to see the bust in semi-profile, but this time the right of its face is the dominant view. As your brain has unquestioningly assumed that the face is convex, it has no other choice but to interpret the unusual perspective as motion. Hence, the damn thing seems to be turning its head to watch you!

If you've never seen this illusion before, it can be quite spooky.

--Europium

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#16
In reply to #15

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

10/16/2006 4:07 AM

Genuinely fascinating. Thanks as well for the excellent explanation.

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#21
In reply to #10

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

03/07/2007 9:25 PM

I can only guess you meant to describe a concave (negative) 3D press of a face, mounted on top of a filled (positive) bust.

Is this the case?

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#17

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

01/10/2007 2:16 PM

What is the formal term for this technique?

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#22
In reply to #17

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

03/07/2007 9:29 PM

"An Optical Illusion". There. Right?

Alternatively; How would you like to call it?

I would normally call it: "The eyes following you whatchamacallit optical-illusion thing", and never got any complaints.

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#18

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

03/07/2007 7:32 PM

Student here,

Wondering if the eyes of Mona Lisa following you is related to the way the moon follows you when driving, as in a car?

Is there a name for this phenomena?

Thanks for any input.

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#19
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Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

03/07/2007 9:11 PM

Not just with Mona Lisa but instead with any 2D image: It is probably only our mind's perception. The "eyes" may be any object 's orientation drawn clear enough and pressed on 2D.

The key-word here is "2D", because in 3D, our mind's perception may incorporate enough surrounding info to conclude a shift or change in the object's orientation. In 2D, the object apparent orientation is "static" and the mind is void of additional "depth-info" to enable it some more "orientative-calculation".

What's more amazing is our mind's ability to calculate 3D object's orientation and trajectory "on-the-move", and in real-time. See how easy you can catch, say, a doll, thrown at you.

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#24
In reply to #19

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

05/08/2007 7:55 AM

In 2D, the object apparent orientation is "static" and the mind is void of additional "depth-info" to enable it some more "orientative-calculation".

I see out of one eye and have no problem . This is because most objects have a known size. More subtle clues such as shadow help , and the subconciosly developed technique of moving my head compensate. No problem. (this was the nearest there was to an eye patch ! )

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#23
In reply to #18

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

03/12/2007 5:40 AM

I think the perception of the Moon following you as you drive is more to do with the way we are primed to 'notice' the moon, so as you follow the curves in the road the moon suddenly 'appears' in your field of vision, so you think it's following you! (actually, I remember thinking this as a kid, but hadn't really noticed it again for many years!)

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#28
In reply to #18

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

07/04/2010 3:42 PM

This is soooo obvious. Imagine a bust of a person looking forward next to a painting or photograph of the same person looking forward. Then move around the room. The bust is 3d so will continue to look straight ahead and so the eyes WILL NOT follow you around the room. The painting or photograph is flat so the eyes WILL appear to follow you around the room. The bust is like you and me it inhabits 3d space, but the painting is a flat representation and so does not.

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#25

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

09/15/2007 10:24 AM

I wonder if there is a pratical use for this? A major problem with video conferencing is that there is limited eye contact. When you are looking at your monitor, the camera and the other person perceive you as looking down (assuming the carmera is mounted above the screen).

If you look directly at the camera, the viewer perceives that you are looking at them. Now they get the eye contact that is so important to visual communication. But then you can't see your conferee's face and you miss their facial clues.

I was in the telecom business for years and have always thought video conferencing could replace a lot of travel. AT&T demonstrated video conferencing way back in 1956 with the Picturephone. Still the concept has not done that well even though webcams are becoming more ubquitous. Some do attribute that failure to lack of eye contact which greatly lessens the value of the interaction. In many societies, avoiding eye contact is considered an indication of lying or duplicity.

Television reporters are trained to look at the camera so that they connect with the audience. Teleprompters are mounted right under the lens. When shot from a distance, you can't tell the reporter is not looking at you, even if they are reading the prompter.

Could the technique discussed here allow more eye contact? Or do you need software and multiple cameras to blend a view of the face that always looks out at the viewer? With the new webcams embedded in the frame of a screen, it would be easy to embed 4 cameras, one on each side of the screen. Could software then combine the images in such a way that the eyes look at the viewer when the person looks at the viewer's image on his own screen?

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#26

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

06/01/2010 1:19 PM

It is because Da vinci painted mona lisas face into a perfect rectangle where if it is cut up into pices it while form a spiral. This is called the golden rectangle created by Fibonacci

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#27
In reply to #26

Re: How do painters make the eyes follow you?

06/02/2010 1:57 AM

While the Fibonacci numbers do have a lot to do with the proportions in a two dimensional representation of a four dimensional world I don't think it has anything to do with the eyes appearing to follow you. That boils down to quirk of the two dimensional painting and the way your four dimensional brain interprets it as per my explanation in post #2

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