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About Us - Cool Optical Illusions

We started the website in late 2003, becoming one of the first websites dedicated to optical illusions.

CoolOpticalIllusions.com was founded by Scott Henderson. He has always been fascinated with magic and optical illusions, and the psychology that is involved to achieve the perfect illusion. Scott is also a professional magician. Scott also creates many of the optical illusions on the site, so you'll see countless illusions that you won't find anywhere else!

Early interest in optical illusions

I remember distinctly the very first optical illusion that I had ever seen. My mother had opened one of her old, dusty books on psychology that had a few pictures of optical illusions hidden inside. The black and white picture had three circles, and each had a wedge removed from the center. Because of the way that the wedges were removed, it appeared as if there was a triangle appearing in the middle. My mother pointed out that in fact there were only the circles, and that your brain has to fill in the missing pieces.

She turned the page and there was another illusion, the young lady and old lady illusion. I looked and looked, and just had a hard time seeing the young lady, although the cartoon old lady was instantly apparent to me. After a deep explanation of the facial features of the young woman, I saw her, as if a switch in my brain had been switched! Just as if discovering or solving a puzzle, I was hooked! I think I realized early on that it wasn't just seeing the visual illusion. It also wasn't why the brain makes us think the way we do, but simply playing while discovering the optical illusions is just as fun. It was just like solving a riddle or puzzle.

This is why I've always kept the site absolutely friendly for kids... because of my early interest as a child. There are a myriad of questionable optical illusions that I just wouldn't feel comfortable with kids seeing, and not sure that it advances the art of optical illusions. In addition, I do monitor the type of ads that are shown on the site, and have never allowed advertisements for cigarettes or tobacco products or any other non-kid friendly ads. If you like the site, you can always donate!

Early interest in magic

Since this is a website about optical illusions, I won't go into my deep interest in magic, that eventually led to a career in magic. However, I'm sure that it was my interest in understanding magic and some of the principles used in magic tricks and illusions that helps me to make some of the optical illusions on this site slightly better. It's one thing to reveal the secret to an optical illusion and it's another to reveal the secret to magic tricks. So instead of revealing those secrets, I've woven them into some of the original illusions you'll see sprinkled throughout the site. For instance, a principle of magic that you may be aware of is that black makes objects look smaller. This is often why women point out that a black dress is slimming. It's the same reason that many of the secret areas in magic tricks are painted black. I've used this in a few of the optical illusions by coloring things that I want to appear larger as lighter colors, and things that I want to appear smaller as black.

Through performing magic, I've also learned that it doesn't matter how great your trick is, it's the whole act that has to be entertaining. I've applied some of those same rules to this site as well, as I hope you enjoy my commentary throughout the website. I continue to study optical illusions and learn more about how the eye and brain work in tandem, and the reasons for why some optical illusions appear to work better than others.

The progression of the coolopticalillusions.com website

The website started with just a small handful of optical illusions, including one version of the checker shadow illusion, where I believe I was the first to actually use DHTML (dynamic html) to allow the user to move two gray blocks around the page, to cover up certain areas of the checker shadow illusion to prove it's legitimacy.

Some milestones that show how amazing and influential some of my personal illusions have been:

Cool Site of the Day

Back when people didn't just start their surfing at facebook or a great place like reddit, they'd start with places like coolsiteoftheday. I was honored to be featured as a cool site of the day, and all the web traffic that came with it. I had a great following early on, and received much good publicity from this

Featured on BBC.com

One day I was checking my statistics and couldn't figure out why my web traffic had shot through the roof! I guess this is a good problem to have, but I thought something might be wrong with the stats. Before I was knowledgeable enough to know about referring links, I just posted the question to the users of the site, and a couple people instantly emailed me, to let me know that the BBC had featured my site in a critique. A summary of their story was that although the site had a huge collection of optical illusions, the left navigation bar was ridiculously huge. (Well it was, I had to put the illusions somewhere!)

Original Content

I play with magic tricks and optical illusions every week. One of the first great discoveries was some of the illusory moving illusions, especially the spiral. I found that when I shaded some objects a certain way, and arranged them in a spiral, they moved. So I added some color and made the blue spiral illusion. This is where I learned that many people have taken this illusion without my permission, removed the copyright information and taken credit for themselves. Ugh. At least most webmasters do this out of the enjoyment for it. Sometimes, when I actually discover something interesting enough to post to the site, I do. The "make your own impossible triangle" was something pretty amazing that I discovered as I challenged myself to figure this out. I had seen something similar on a TV show as a kid - Mr. Wizard (Don Herbert).

I was on a website that listed "the most amazing non-photo shopped pictures" and I just about fell out of my chair when I saw the make your own impossible triangle illusion. Remember, this is not me expecting to see my illusion featured there, but just as I was browsing the web, killing time! Now days, I often check my referrer logs, and so I'm expecting people to link to or use my content, but believe me, when you see your picture as you're just surfing the web, it helps you realize what a small world this really is.

Speaking of small worlds, that's something else I've always found interesting about optical illusions - they're universal. I love knowing that we get visitors from around the world. Sure we get tons of US and UK visitors, but we also have really high traffic from the Philippines, so to all of you in the Philippines or any other cool place out there, hello!

Searching google and your own site comes up!

When do you know your site has finally made it? When you're searching for something different, and your very own website comes up in the search results. Sure, this may happen much more often now, as google tracks your behavior much more. Years ago, when all searches returned pretty much the same results (depending on your country) I had been looking to add a new stage illusion magic trick to my act. While looking for illusions and illusion builders (yes, there are people who specialize in just building magician's illusion props), I was very surprised to see that a page for coolopticalillusions had appeared as one of the top results! No google, I already know what's on my site, I want someone else's site!

Licensing content

Since I produce much of the images and videos for the site, I often license out the use of the illusions. I've licensed illusions for use in a college textbook that has been used in the USA, as well as printed in some different languages across the globe. Or I've licensed illusions to be used in advertisements, from promotions, for optometrists conventions and all sorts of other things.

What the future holds?

Who knows! Sure, as a magician I have studied a bit of what's called "cold reading" so I guess this is where I could attempt to predict your future. First, yes I know who you are. You have a scratch on your left knee, don't you?! You're also the type of person to always read the last couple words on a page, right?


Scott Henderson