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"See, the apple's not giant. It's just in the foreground."
—Marzipan, Homestar Runner
Depth Deception is what happens when depth perception goes wrong.
Sometimes, often due to uncommon conditions such as viewing through a telescope, camera or other similar optical device, people can get confused and mistake something small and close (such as an insect) for something far and huge (such as an Attacking 50 Foot Whatever). Or vice versa. For reasons closely related to the Rule of Funny, this happens more often in fiction than in Real Life, though Truth in Television cases are not unheard of.
A specific subtrope is Big Little Man, where a character is introduced as being much bigger or smaller than they really are.
When it's used intentionally as a camera technique—one of the oldest special effects on record—it's called Forced Perspective.
Not to be confused with Depth Perplexion.
- Tricks such as the one in the page image are used extensively to paint two-dimensional advertising logos onto horizontal planes such as cricket pitches, football grounds, baseball fields, etc. When viewed from the most-commonly used camera, the logos appear as they would if printed on a vertical billboard. When viewed from one of the other cameras, however, they look very weird indeed.
- Can The Man Your Man Could Smell Like take you to the freshest of distant cultures? ... Not quite.
Anime & Manga
- In an episode of Pokémon, what Team Rocket thought was Ash's Pikachu wandering towards them turned out to be a gigantic robotic Pikachu that was approaching from farther away. "It's Big-achu!"
- Las Noches from Bleach. Ichigo and company thought it was close enough to run to... and after they were forced to stop to catch their breath, it still looked as far away as ever. When they finally arrived, it would have taken them three days to walk around to the nearest entrance. You can't really blame them for making their own in that case.
- GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class mentions this concept in one episode, using the more proper term "trompe l'oeil".
- The Gundam SEED Character Theater does this with Torii, Kira's robot bird, which here is about the size of a small car (as Shinn, Rey, and Luna learn the hard way).
- It happened early in One Piece, when the crew sailed in a sea populated with huge creatures. They saw a dolphin coming after their ship... but it was huge, and looked normal just because it was at a great distance from them.
- In the Tintin book The Shooting Star, when Tintin looks into the telescope first he sees what appears to be a Giant Spider rather than the huge blazing meteorite which was partly obscured by a spider crawling across the telescope lens.
- Blunt Trauma is attacking Empowered! No, it was just his action figure Ninjette threw into the air to train Emp.
- A Crowning Moment of Funny from the Italian comic Sturmtruppen, as the sergeant is training the desert troops:
Sergeant: You'll have to learn how to estimate distances. You! How far is dat palm on the horizon?
- In an issue of Robin, where Robin, Catwoman and the Psyba Rats are all investigating a house built by a rich practical joker, the Psyba Rats notice something odd about one hallway:
Hacker: It's a forced perspective illusion!
- In a FoxTrot strip, Jason makes a snow sculpture that despite being about an adult person's size, when seen from the front looks like a towering snowman giant getting ready to stomp. Jason remarks that "Forced Perspective is an underrated art form."
- The Call of Cthulhu 2005 Fan Film used this to portray the Alien Geometries of Ry'leh. At one point, a man falls into a hole which appeared to be a protruding rock thanks to this.
Films — Animation
- The Little Mermaid: Scuttle sees Ariel through a spyglass from the wrong end, and shouts to her as if she were far away, even though she is actually a few inches in front of him. When she moves the spyglass away, Scuttle exclaims, "Whoa, what a swim!"
- The whale from Finding Nemo. "I'm the little guy..."
Films — Live-Action
- Used as a gag in the movie Top Secret. A ringing phone seems to be really close to the camera, until a man picks up the three-foot receiver. The scene evokes classic Hitchcock, who was a fan of this trope but for less comedic reasons.
- Citizen Kane used this subtly:
- In one scene, a window turns out to both be much larger and much higher up than it initially appears, which means that when Kane approaches it, he suddenly appears a lot smaller and less significant. This, of course, is used for symbolic effect.
- Also done with the fireplace in Xanadu, which is revealed to be large enough to burn whole trees when Kane goes back to it.
- There is a Olsen Twins's film where they parody this when they visit a little person house, at first when they see it and mention how little it looks, the guy with them says that the house is actually far away.
- In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indiana Jones misjudges a heroic rope swing onto a moving jeep, missing it, before he says the line below. This, his being fooled by the optical illusion in The Last Crusade, and his older self being depicted with an eye patch, have led to some fans believing one of his eyes is going bad.
Indy: Damn! I thought that was closer..."
- In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Azeem the Moor shows Robin the approaching riders through his telescope. Unfamiliar with this technology, Robin starts swinging his sword at the suddenly-close enemies.
- Labyrinth did this with some pieces of scenery that turned out to actually be made up of multiple objects.
- The opening hallway that leads to the edible room in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory is far shorter than it actually appears; the hallway gets smaller and smaller to the end.
- A dramatic (and extremely suspenseful) example appears in Road to Perdition: A young boy walks up to the front door of his home and sees Connor, the son of the mob boss who employs his father, approaching having just killed the boy's mother and brother. Connor appears to stare directly at him through the door's window, but it turns out Connor was actually looking at his own reflection. After the boy realizes this, he has time to hide before Connor leaves the house.
- Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Sphinx is about a man seeing a terrifying monster walking on the hill outside the cottage where he's staying. It turns out at the end that it was an insect crawling on a spider web very close to his face.
- G. K. Chesterton references the trope in the Father Brown story "The Song of the Flying Fish":
"A thing can sometimes be too close to be seen, as, for instance, a man cannot see himself. There was a man who had a fly in his eye when he looked through the telescope, and he discovered that there was a most incredible dragon in the moon."
- A short story about a monstrous dragon on a distant mountain. But in actuality, the dragon always appeared to be the same size no matter how far away the viewer was, so when the protagonist climbed the mountain he found the dragon to be much smaller.
- A hilarious incident in Arrested Development involving some Japanese investors, as well as a jet pack and a rat suit.
- Dougal from Father Ted apparently can't tell the difference between small toy cows and real ones which are far away.
"Now concentrate this time, Dougal. These (holds up model cows) are small, but the ones out there (points outside) are far away."
- Doctor Who
- The Doctor once explained that the TARDIS works by neatly subverting this trope. Two identical boxes are put side-by-side to show they're the same size. Move one farther away. Which one's bigger? Well, neither, they're still the same size. But what if you could make it so that the relative dimensions in space were actual?
- In a more recent episode, Donna Noble sees a wasp hovering just outside the window, only it turns out to be a huge wasp far away but approaching very fast.
- Like Top Secret! above, in Parker Lewis Can't Lose, a character dealing with the stresses of his job, hears the phone ringing with the phone positioned cinematically in the foreground taking up most of the shot. As he comes up to it and picks it up and we zoom out, it turns out the phone is gigantic with the receiver as long as his forearm.
- Some of the Adult Swim Ad Bumpers feature "fake miniature" photography, described below in Real Life.
- Phoenix Nights featured bouncer Max squinting at an approaching group of dwarfs and asking the immortal question, "How far away are they?"
- An opening segment of Malcolm in the Middle had the idiotic older brother Reese crying in triumph that he has the much, much bigger popsicle than what Malcolm has from his perspective. Malcolm pulls his popsicle next to his to reveal it's the same size.
- On QI, David Mitchell tried to get a joke on this concerning giant tortoises (no one gave them scientific names because they looked at them from the wrong angle and assumed they were normal-size tortoises). He stumbled over the delivery, as he suddenly realised "they thought they were normal tortoises, but closer" wouldn't work in reality, and got through it only with coaching from Stephen Fry—though that was funny too.
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie has a Vox Pops segment where a man says his first impression of his wife was that she was an incredibly tiny woman, and that it wasn't until weeks later, after he'd gotten to know her, that he realized she was actually just far away.
- In "Magical Mysteries", the Saturday Night Live parody of the Insane Clown Posse song "Miracles", one of the mysteries is: "Are children small, or just far away?"
- In Kingdom of Loathing, before the Observatory was destroyed, it was possible to look through the telescope and discover "a giant space mosquito".
- In Super Mario 64, the room where you can enter Tiny Huge Island is a T-junction with a painting at the end of each hall, all of which appear to be the same size when you first enter: the one in the center is normal-sized and non-functional, the one on the left is actually slightly smaller than usual, and the one on the right is gigantic. The two paintings that actually warp Mario are also set in hallways that use forced perspective, meaning that until you start walking toward one, the images all look the same size. Which is actually quite jarring when first seen. Walk towards the small one and it's MUCH closer to you than it should be, with the hall way going inwards. Walk towards the large one and you're gonna be walking a looooooooooong time.
- A few of the off-path rooms in LEGO Star Wars II appear "correct" from certain angles, but are revealed to be skewed when you actually walk into them. For instance, the very first Protocol droid door in the very first level; a few gimmick objects are included to help sell the illusion.
- One dungeon in Nocturne has several fake hallways that are actually painted walls. You will often reach a junction where you need to choose between the real hallway and a wall. If you choose the wall you are booted to the beginning.
- The third chapter of Tales of Monkey Island uses this trope to reveal the true size of La Esponja Grande.
- You will never look at this Pokémon the same way.
- In Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil, in the Haunted House section of Joilant, there's a room with a straight path lined with ordinary Moos... except only some of them are normal size. Others are on a parallel path in the background, and when they jump over to your path, they are revealed to be at least ten times bigger.
- Equinox embodies this trope. Items are the same size regardless of their distance from the camera, meaning it is often impossible to tell where objects are except by trial and error. What appears to be a tower made of discs might actually be a staircase.
- The Homestar Runner episode from which the page quote is taken. Marzipan is just explaining an art technique, but when a giant Bubs turns up immediately after, she says the same thing about his foot.
- Nina Paley's Fetch does this repeatedly.
- The trick is played on the reader in this strip of Order of the Stick.
- This Girl Genius.
- This Buttersafe comic.
- Played with in this Nerd Boy comic.
- Played with in this page of Dr. McNinja where the Doc says that armoured space suits were originally created to fight space monsters observed through telescopes. Of course, it turned out that they had gotten the scale wrong, and the space monsters are actually planet sized. We pray they continue not to notice us.
- Frequently used in Perry Bible Fellowship.
- This strip of Dominic Deegan.
- Chop Cup. Do not adjust your mind, there is a fault in reality.
- In the fourth Asdfmovie a father is throwing a ball to his child off in the distance. Actually they're just really small. Squish.
- The Simpsons
- In episode "Deep Space Homer", reporter Kent Brockman makes TV contact with a space mission just in the moment an ant set loose in the spaceship floats by the camera lens. Brockman's reporting jumps to the conclusion that a master race of giant ants has conquered the spacecraft and is about to invade Earth. He then pauses, looks at camera, and delivers the immortal line: "And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords."
- In the episode where the Simpsons act out folk tales, Homer as the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan runs towards Marge, who thinks he's just a normal-sized man until he gets near enough for her to see his true scale.
- In the episode where Homer joins the Army, he escapes during wargames. As he's lying in bed with Marge, he looks out the window and comments on the helicopter in the distance... except it's a spy drone the size of an RC toy, and it's right in his window.
- Also in "Hurricane Neddy", when the folks want to help Ned rebuild his house, they end up doing a very poor job. One hallway looks normal from a distance, but due to forced perspective it is actually shorter and narrower than it looks.
Ned: Oh, something is definitely wrong with this hallway. (opens mini-door at the end of the hallway)
- In an episode of Alvin and The Chipmunks, a bug on the lens of Simon's telescope caused them to think there was an alien invasion on its way to Earth.
- In an episode of The Pink Panther, the Panther plays a trick on his human foil (who is an astronomer this time) with a puppet show at the end of his telescope that convinces the guy he has discovered aliens on the moon.
- In the Donald Duck war short Home Defense, Donald's nephews are able to convince him that they're being attacked... by parachuting gingerbread men. Later in the short, a bee does a similar (but unintentional) dupe job.
- In the opening of the Futurama episode "Fear of a Bot Planet", Fry comments on how the size of space puts everything in perspective. They then hit a planet like a bug on a windshield.
- In the Phineas and Ferb' episode "The Ballad of Badbeard", the children leap across a perilous gorge while monsters snap at their feet. Isabella then chastises Buford for playing around with his nifty, newly-found, monster hand puppets, right in front of the "camera".
- Cow and Chicken: This is how Chicken managed to use a golf-ball and fool the Red Guy (who was at that point an astronomer), and the entire world, into believing that the earth is about to be hit by a comet, and get everyone to buy "protection devices" which were just random junk he found around the house. When it turns out there IS a comet, it's in turn revealed to be the size of a golf-ball, and it hitting several of his "protection devices" was enough to minimize the damage it causes.
- On Planet Sheen, Sheen volunteers to capture a feared beast called a chocktaw after seeing a picture of one dwarfed by a flower. Then he discovers that flowers on Zeenu grow to the size of redwoods.
- In one episode of the Babar animated series, Arthur and Zephir panic when they look through a telescope and mistake the glow of a firefly for an invading alien spacecraft.
- In Korgoth of Barbaria Korgoth points to some pigeons below them when asked how to get to the floating castle. Turns out they're twenty-foot tall pigeons.
- The Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! episode "Warp Speed Wubbzy" involves Walden spotting what he thinks is an incoming alien visitor, but is actually just a firefly, and Wubbzy and Widget pretending to be aliens to keep him from being disappointed.
- Dan Vs. "The Beach": While out on the ocean, Chris looks through binoculars and spots what looks like his wife getting a back rub from the lifeguard, but the lifeguard was actually just smoothing the sides of a sand castle he built behind her.
- Used in episode 14 with Moon's entrance, with shadows and a close-up obfuscating temporarily the fact that the monkey isn't quite the expected size.
- Also when Rubilax is freed from the sword in episode 22; it isn't immediately obvious that he's half Sadlygrove's height. He doesn't stay that size for long, though.
- Bear's cave in Word World for some reason shows a room painted onto a wall for a door rather than an actual entrance containing a room. Makes people wonder how Bear is able to go in and out of her cave in the first place.
- Several videos seem to show ghosts or other mysterious appearances that are in reality showing a bug crawling across the screen. See this page.
- Tilt-shift (or Perspective Correction) lenses, common on medium- and large-format cameras, can be used to make photos of large scenes appear to be miniatures.
- A story about Andre the Giant relates how, when first entering the business in his native France, he approached the promoter's table alongside a friend of normal stature. Because of Andre's condition (whereby he was relatively in proportion, despite his size), the promoter couldn't tell how massive he was from a distance, and apparently looked at André's friend and said to someone sitting next to him, "We'll never hire that midget..."
- Taking advantage of this is a fairly popular form of modern art, like the page picture.
- Julian Beever is an English artist who is famous for his art on the pavements of England, France, Germany, USA, Australia and Belgium.
- Abbey Road‘s iconic cover was remade on Perspective 3D Street art with Peanuts characters at Universal Studios Japan.
- Since the human eye uses both eyes to create a 3D image, using the subtle difference between each eye's perspective, some people who are blind in one eye can't excersize proper depth perception and thus their daily routine could be littered with this trope.
- You don't even have to be half blind. Some people just don't have that kind of depth perception. I'm pretty sure people would still be able to see depth fine if they keep moving, though. Instead of seeing something at two different angles at the same time, you see it at different angles at different times. The principle works the same.
- A traffic reporter, reporting on a slowdown at a local vehicular tunnel, said it was due to a giant spider attacking cars at the entrance. A normal-sized spider had crawled onto the lens of the camera, and quite by chance gave the appearance of a giant spider attacking the cars, thus combining this trope with Crowning Moment of Funny.
- It's been argued that reports of big cats roaming parts of the English countryside, the most famous being the "Beast of Bodmin", may just be normal-sized feral cats that look farther away than they really are.
- Reportedly, this happens all the time to people who live in jungles because they're so used to seeing everything close up. One anthropologist brought one of these people in a plane with him. The man commented about the beetles on the grass. The anthropologist couldn't convince the man that they were actually very large buffalo seen from far away.
- The Moon is actually both 400 times smaller than the Sun, and 400 times closer to Earth than the Sun. As a result, the two appear to be the same size.
- If we're going into astronomy, we might as well talk about quasars and their red shift. For decades, scientists were unsure whether these strange objects moving away from us were close by and fairly faint, or as distant as the Hubble Law suggests and therefore brighter than anything else that we have ever experienced. It was only through gravitational lensing from distant galaxy superclusters that we found out just how far away these things really are.
- As for the Moon, the Apollo astronauts had trouble judging the sizes of distant objects because of the way light works in space. While binocular vision is great at short distances, it's relatively useless farther away. For farther objects, we take visual cues from the way air gradually absorbs and disperses light, making distant things look fainter. With no air on the moon, that effect doesn't exist. There is footage of one astronaut bounding off to an apparently small nearby rock. And he keeps hopping. And keeps hopping. Until he's dwarfed by the gigantic rock that he's standing beside.
- Also, a star's apparant and absolute magnitudes. The apparant magnitude determines how bright the star is based on its distance from Earth, while its absolute magnitude determines how bright the star is based on its size. As a result, some stars that are larger than others will appear very dim from Earth because they are further way from other stars.
- Similar to the jungle example, people used to (unconsciously) using things like trees and buildings to judge relative distances often have trouble when placed in environments like the Arctic tundra or deserts: in the right conditions, hills which appear a short distance away end up being many kilometers away, while a distant range of hills turns out to be a small mound a few hundred meters away.