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Masters of Illusion

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Masters of Illusion

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The extraordinary special effects we enjoy in films today are based on principles established more than 500 years ago by Renaissance masters such as Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, and Raphael. This film examines artistic and scientific discoveries of the Renaissance, provides new insight into a remarkable visual revolution, and uses modern technology to analyse the old masters in amazing new ways.

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This documentary hosted by James Burke is a fascinating examination of the concept of how we see things, specifically how images that appear to our eyes to be three-dimensional are rendered convincingly on flat surfaces. Starting out in a movie studio special effects lab, Burke explains how visual illusions practiced today actually began during the Renaissance, when painters first mastered the skills of incorporating the idea of depth into paintings. The principle of "linear perspective," in which parallel lines all diverge to a common vanishing point, sounds complicated, but the examples shown in this documentary make the idea perfectly clear to the layperson. By way of contrast, paintings completed before the Renaissance are shown, and it's immediately clear to the viewer that artists who hadn't mastered perspective drew scenes that appear flat on the canvas. But when artists such as Brunelleschi and Michelangelo practiced using perspective, art suddenly jumped forward. Quotes from Leonardo da Vinci's writings, in which he talked about perspective and the effects of light, are offered along with examples of his paintings that illustrate beautifully how a master used a scientific principle to create great art. This is an unusual documentary that makes fascinating a subject that most people have never considered, though it relates to things we see everyday.

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