Description: Viral video / Hoax
Circulating since: April 2013
Status: FAKE (see details below)
Full video via YouTube: The Escherian Stairwell, uploaded April 30, 2013
As posted on Facebook, May 30, 2013:
Amazing Escherian Stairwell at R.I.T.
This Escherian Stairwell at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York has an endless staircase that has amazed students and baffled those who've tried to figure it out. These Penrose stairs, designed by a Filipino architect Rafael Nelson Aboganda, with a nod to M.C. Escher, is making everybody to scratch their brains out. What sorcery is this?
As posted on Facebook, June 3, 2013:
There are no video tricks going on here. These stairs baffle everyone who walks on them. Anybody know what's going on here?
Analysis: The term "Escherian" refers to the works of Dutch artist M.C. Escher, whose prints and drawings often included impossible objects and paradoxical architectural features such as never-ending stairways (also known as Penrose stairs).
What Escher achieved through optical illusion, Michael Lacanilao, the Rochester Institute of Technology graduate student who made "The Escherian Stairwell," achieves through the clever use of camera angles, editing, and special effects (credit is also due the actors, whose very convincing expressions of astonishment at the phenomenon they're pretending to experience help sell the illusion).
At first glance the stair-climbing sequences may seem to have been shot in continuous takes, but in fact the "magic" is to be found in carefully concealed cuts and edits. Separate shots were blended using split-screen effects, a botched example of which can be seen about 3 minutes and 45 seconds into the video when the left arm of a young boy descending the stairs inexplicably vanishes for a half-a-second (a defect that was corrected in a re-edited version).
'Help us build the myth'
That the "Escherian Stairwell" video is a carefully planned and executed hoax was admitted by its creator in a Kickstarter proposal soliciting funding for the project in March 2013:
What's the project?
The most powerful aspects of myths are their ability to incite wonder and excitement. We're creating a myth that does these things while also challenging audiences to think.
The myth is that located in Rochester, NY, is the Escherian Stairwell, an architectural marvel that seems to violate the laws of physics and basic logic by looping back into itself. In order to lend credence to this myth, we're creating an episode for a family-friendly science show that demonstrates the staircase in action, various clips from a 1997 documentary with prominent thinkers grappling with the existence of this apparent contradiction and pontificating on its implications, and a whole slew of supplemental online materials for today's internet savvy audience to stumble across while trying to see if this thing is real (websites, scholarly articles, fan-pages, blogs, etc.). Help us build the myth!
Though the total amount pledged by donors ultimately fell far short of Lacanilao's proposed $12,000 budget and many peripheral features of the project apparently had to be abandoned, the video remains a stand-alone success which indeed incites wonder and excitement, and indeed challenges the viewing audience — if not to think, at least to Google.
Sources and further reading:
Video: The Escherian Stairwell
YouTube, 30 April 2013
Search for the Escherian Stairwell at Imagine RIT
Rochester Institute of Technology, 30 April 2013
The Stairwell Project: Building a Modern Myth
KickStarter.com, 23 March 2013
The Mysterious Escherian Stairwell
By Simon Bowden, MindSpy.co.uk, 7 May 2013
Last updated 03/31/14