Perspective and Animation

Salvador Dalí once designed a horse 30 kilometers long. His original plan had not been so grandiose--at first the statue was to have a length of only about a hundred meters. In order to see it the right way, you would come through a gateway and look up to behold the realistic figure of a large horse on a ramp looking down at you. Closest to you would rise the head with its flaring nostrils, then farther back the perfectly proportioned powerful shoulders, and farthest away a large rump. A very realistic looking horse, you would think, until you explored further. In actuality the shoulders would sit several meters away on a high structure, and the rump would rise very high on a several-story construction at the other end of the exhibit area. The rest of the horse would be stretched in between these three parts. Only from one viewing point would the statue appear realistic. From any other point, the horse would look greatly distorted (see Dalí's sketches on the next page).

Dalí did not find it difficult to calculate how large to make the various elements, and just how far back from the observer to place them so that the appearance would be just right, at first glance anyway. It was an exercise in a three-dimensional trompe l'oeil, similar to the famous pictures of domes painted on flat ceilings, which deceive viewers for that instant when they first come into a gallery. Such images look absolutely three-dimensional at first, but they quickly lose their realism when some exploratory motion shows that the image does not behave the way a three-dimensional object should.

Dalí was not satisfied with a horse the length of a football field. His next design expanded the shoulders of the horse and moved them to the top of a tall building at some distance from the head. The rump was to be placed on a conveniently shaped mountaintop 30 kilometers away. The basic mathematical design of the sculpture remained the same--only the scale was different.

The final project went even further--the shoulders were to sit on the mountaintop and the role of the rump was to be played by the moon. Of course only at very rare intervals would the moon come over the mountain at just the right spot to complete a realistic picture of a horse. To view the sculpture, an observer would have to watch not only at the right place on the earth, but at the right time.

The sculpture will not be built. But with computer graphics, we can see exactly what the horse would look like if it ever were built. That appealed to Dalí.

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