8+
Gallery 2

Emu and Koala

two 3D paintings. on the left, has 2 emus, and on the right a koala in a white gum tree
A 3D painting of two emus behind plastic green plants

Watch the emu and koala faces as you walk past and observe how they eerily seem to 'watch' you!

How it works

Emu watches you! These animals’ faces follow you about in this perspective illusion.

Things to try or ask around the exhibit

  • Try watching the emu and koala faces as you walk past from a distance and close up, or duck down and view the faces from below.
  • Does one position strengthen the visual illusion more than another position?
  • At one point can you tell that the faces are pointing inwards instead of outwards?

Background

Our brains develop a model of how to 'see' the world by using past information along with present information to make sense of what we see.

We are used to seeing faces that have protruding noses. When a normal face turns to watch us, the nose points towards us and it doesn’t obscure much of the rest of the face.When you look at the emu and koala inside-out faces, the noses point inwards (instead of outwards) and they are the furthest point from you so they cannot obscure the other parts of the face no matter which angle you look. However, the noses align with the rest of the features as if the faces are turned towards us. Our brains interpret this using our past knowledge of how faces work and decide that the faces are turning to watch us.

Finding the science in your world

You can create a similar effect at home by grabbing one or two party character face masks and placing one mask facing a normal direction and the other mask facing the other direction (so you can see inside the mask). Adjust a desk lamp to create shadows on the lamps so they both look 'normal'.