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DVD Review: Empire of the Eye – The Magic of Illusion

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With each new year bringing advances in special effects and computer animation, it may be difficult to believe that the very foundations of creating scenes that trick the eye are found in the Renaissance. There the mathematical and observational principles were established that allow two-dimensional images to appear three-dimensional, adding depth to paintings, architecture, and later the motion picture.

Empire of the Eye: The Magic of Illusion takes viewers on a 50 minute survey of the development and implementation of a range of revolutionary artistic techniques: linear perspective, systematic perspective, atmospheric perspective, anamorphic art. Host Al Roker steps into computer renderings and analyses, three-dimensional models, and into the paintings, sculptures, and buildings themselves to point out the techniques and trickery used to create an artificial sense of depth, height, distance, and more.

The Magic of Illusion is a wonderful choice for Christian families who wish to explore artistic principles through the religious art and architecture of the Renaissance. Though not all of the objets d'art examined are Christian, a good majority of them are. Among the most notable is Massacio’s fresco, “The Trinity” — the first known painting to demonstrate linear perspective in the fifteenth century is explored in depth. Mantegna’s religious art is surveyed with an eye for perspective and points of view. Church architecture and the techniques used to create a sense of artificial space are also examined.

Roker’s journey of discovery begins in Italy, but ranges abroad to Europe and on to the new world in the many examples he explores. While the greatest emphasis is on works of the Renaissance, Roker also takes us into the modern age with a brief tour through some examples of modern architecture and film that have dramatically used the foundational concepts of perspective examined in the film.

As a bare bones DVD there is chaptered navigation available when the film is playing, but that is all. A standard scene navigation menu would be an incredible boon to teachers wanting to zoom in on particular topics, but this is sadly unavailable.

A natural choice as a supplement to art curriculums dealing with the topic of perspective, The Magic of Illusion should also hold interest for the general viewer with an interest in art history, and how we see the world around us. Learning about the intricacies of the perspective necessary to achieve realistic has certainly begun to develop in me a deeper appreciation of the realistic, depth-filled art that we now take for granted.

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