Introduction: Low-Tech Moving Eyes Portrait (Rembrandt)

This is great fun, it's not expensive and it's really easy to make. There are no mechanics involved in making the eyes move. IT'S AN ILLUSION! They don't move at all. It's the viewer who moves.
I hope Mr. Rembrandt isn't turning in his grave. I'd like to think he's having a little chuckle to himself :)

Step 1: Thank You Rijks Museum

Thanks to the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam I was able to use this Rembrandt portrait painting in this project. These people are geeat! They are the first museum in the world to document and make available free of charge their complete collection of paintings. This means they are sharing their treasures with the world just like we the DIY community share our ideas with the world here on instructables. They are awesome. We are awesome. Rembrandt is awesome.

Step 2: Materials and Equipment

You need very little to make this fun project. It's like an olden days ilusion no technology here except perhaps the lighting solution, depending on how you do it. The picture frame and the lighting will have future uses whenever we get tired of the moving eyes.


  • A3/17"x11" print out €1.35
  • White Ping pong balls (table tennis balls) €1.30
  • Picture frame €8.95
  • Battery powered fairlights €2.00
  • Electric switch €2.90
  • AA Batteries €1.00

This comes to a total cost of €17.50 which should be about the same in dollars.


  • Computer
  • Image processing software such as Photoshop
  • Printer
  • Craft knife
  • Hack saw
  • Superglue
  • 3M Spraymount
  • Duct tape
  • Sharpies or other felt tip markers colors.

I hope you have these tools at your disposal and you need very little image processing tools and skills. And if you don't have all the tools that I have I bet you have something that'll do the job just as well ;) Perhaps you've never used 3M Spraymount. Its a bit expensive but worth every penny. When you need to glue paper to card or board. Its perfect for presentations or, for example, you print out an intricate shape from your computer and need to cut it out from any other material thats not paper. Spraymont the printout to the other material and get cutting. Anyway, if you don't have it it's probably because you use something else thats just as good.

Step 3: Find an Image

From your computer, go to the Rijks Museum website create an account and download the image you'd like to use. The resolutions here are really, really good. No need to search for paintings on line only to find the resolution is too low for printing. All the downloads here are at 300 ppi for printing, not the 72 ppi of computer screens. I chose Rembrandt's Protrait of a Woman, Possibly Maria Trip 1639 because she is looking almost completely straight forward.

Step 4: Resize Image, Print and Print Again

Open the jpeg in photoshop and crop and resize acording to what you need to fit your composition and your frame etc. A home printer is important at this stage to get a feel for the sizes you're working with. Print off a low ink copy to see if it looks good. Resize, print again until you are happy with the picture. I was happy with mine when the Lady in the print was almost full size. It seemed to be right. Perhaps because it would be more authentic for a moving eye portrait or perhaps it was more fitting with the size of the ping pong balls!!!

When you're ready take it to the printers for a good quality full color laser print.

Step 5: Do a Mock-up

Cut out the eyes on the low ink print you did at home. If you didn't print one the same scale as the good print I suggest you do. It works as a great mock-up version to make sure everything is in place, it works as a practice run and you can see the reall size of the pupils and irises that you'll need to have.
You see, with the cut outs on the mock-up print you can start positioning the cut outs for the backing of the picture frame and not worry about damaging your good print.

Step 6: Cut Out the Eyes From the Backing Board

Trace the line of the cut out eyes to the backing board. Then give it a little bit more so that the board won't be visible at all. To be extra sure, carve out the holes at a bevel with the craft knife so that the edges are not seen either.

Step 7: The Moving Eyes!!!

Cut the ping pong balls in half. Only use the sides without text. I tried cutting these with a craft knife but it was tricky and I felt like I was going to have an accident at any moment. I switched to the hack saw: more messy but more control. The balls measure 4 cms diameter (1 1/2 inches) so cutting it in half you'll have 2 cms (3/4 inch) tall half spheres. You'll need to cut that down by about 5 mm (3/16") and sand the edges clean. The artwork is very simple, IMPORTANT: it goes on THE INSIDE OF THE PING PONG BALL. Draw a small black circle in the center and color around it to make the iris. Use the paper eyes you cut out of the print as a guideline for the size. Practice on the discarded sides of the ping pong balls ( the sides we are not using because thet have text printed on them) if you like. Drill tiny holes in the eyes to represent the flashes of light you see reflected in peoples eyes. The back lighting light will literally pour in through here, making these holes the brightest points on the painting.

Step 8: Fix the Print in Front

Use the 3M Spraymount to quickly line it up. Turn it face down to press more firmly. Place the painting back in the picture frame.

Step 9: Lighting Intro

The reason for lighting the eyes is to make them come alive! With no lighting at all the eyeballs (table tennis balls) are too dark. But its tricky to get it just right. The back lighting needs to be not too bright or the subtle effect would be lost.

What you see in the video here is my testing the effect of back lighting the eyeballs. Its just me holding the picture frame up in front of a floor lamp. I had to adjust my position in order for the light intensity to be suitable to the light from the rest of the room infront of the painting. This photo shows the painting without the glass in front of it. You can see the details alot better without the reflections in the way but I am affraid it would get destroyed very easily.
I was thinking of using mini flash lights and tweaking them to fit the situation. Another option was a strip led system that could be dimable but would probably have a power cable sticking out. But while thinking it over a bit more I rememberd that they sell sets of mini fairy lights that work off two AA batteries. They are perfect for the job. Very compact, not too bright and not too expensive. The switch cost €2.90, the lights cost €2.00 and the batteries cost €1.00

Step 10: Lighting Set-up

This went quite well. I was thinking the lights might iluminate the pingpong balls irregularly but I think they work really well. Perhaps they are a little too bright. You could always block out a few of the leds as a sort of dimmer switch. And I may still do that. The other fault I see is the colour of the light is too yellow. If I ever come accross a set of these lights of a natural white color I could exchange them.

I drilled a 20 mm hole on the bottom of the frame to fit the switch into. I had to carve out the backing board a little to make it fit. No problem: this stuff shaves off really easy with little resistence.

I positioned the batteries to rest on the bottom of the frame and glued a small piece of cork to the backing board to help keep it wedged in place but it is easily removed.

I cut one of the two cables (doesn't matter which one) stripped it back and twisted it around the contacts of the new switch. Leave the little switch on the battery pack turned "on".

Lastly I arranged the leds around the eyes and fixed them in place with duct tape. Maybe a glue gun would be a better option here.

Step 11: Finished

Happy Hallowe'en!

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Halloween Contest 2018