Creepy Eye-Following Pictures

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About: I'm a Renaissance woman. I love to create things with a fantasy, medieval, or geeky edge. I'm also a math/science nerd. I have a passion for all things Halloween. I like to build props, create costume elemen...
This simple trick can be accomplished using photos or copies of paintings.  I wanted "creepy pictures" for my family room at Halloween.  The room's theme is "abandoned house."  I have sheets on the furniture and cobwebs over everything.  These pictures are the perfect decorative accent.

Research has shown that any picture in which the subject is looking directly ahead will have eyes that appear to look at you no matter the angle from which it is viewed.  This is because pictures are 2D representations of a 3D world.  As such, our brains ignore the clues that remind it that we are looking at a flat object and focus instead on the dimensional illusion created by the representation of light in the picture.  No matter the angle from which we see it, even if it is a very skewed view from the side, we'll perceive it as a cohesive picture oriented toward us.

The alteration I'm describing adds an actual 3D effect to the picture which is not consistent with the cohesive view, making it disturbing and, thus, creepier than a static picture with eyes that look directly forward.  It works by receding the eyes below the surface of the picture.  The depth of the eyes allows the edges of the eye sockets (which are not receded) to hide the whites on the side it is being viewed from, just as would happen if an actual person was turning their eyes toward you.

Step 1: Gathering the Stuff

You need: 
a graphic file of your picture of a subject looking straight ahead
OR two prints of the same subject that are the same size and resolution
poster board or card stock
a sharp craft knife
a pin
markers or colored pencils
glue stick
frame with or without mat - the effect is easier to see without the frame's glass

Step 2: Printing

What you are about to create is a sandwich of paper, three (or more ) layers thick. The eyes will be on the bottom, blank pages of cardstock (with holes cut out of them) will be in the middle, and the original picture, minus the eyes will be on the top. 

For this I'm making a picture for an 8"X10" opening so I am printing the image on a single sheet of standard cardstock.*

Using graphics software, format your picture to fit the page.   Save your document.  Then save the document again with a new name.  On the second picture, crop everything but a box around the eyes.  This box should extends about 1/4" or more around the eyes  in the exact same spot on the page.  You can simply use a second copy of the picture, but I only like to print the eyes to prevent wasted ink.

*A larger picture can be assembled from tiled standard prints--as you might do using your home printer. This is purely a matter of your own choice. However, it is important that each eyes be completely on a page and not divided between two sheets where the edges of pages might connect, however the picture is printed.

Step 3: Removing the Eyes

Use your craft knife to cut out the almond-shaped portion of the eyeball that shows, including irises.  (See photo.) I find that it's easiest to use a needle to poke holes in the left and right points of each eye. It prevents me from cutting too far beyond this points when doing these cuts.

Step 4: Blending

The cut white edge of the cardstock is going to show. So you will want to give it some color to blend in with the picture. Select colors of marker or pencil that will blend and blot out the whiteness of the edge.

Step 5: Creating Blank Layers

Next, you will want to cut a window in this page that allows for the eyes on the bottom layer to show through.  Stack a blank page on top of your eye page.  Using a light table, holding it up to a light, or laying it against a window in the daylight, mark out the rough position of the corners of the eye box onto this blank page. Use your craft knife to cut this box out of the blank page.

Stack the three pages with the eyes on the bottom, the blank in the middle, and the full picture on the top.  Compress them down and look at it from either side to see if you are satisfied with the depth of the eyes.  The deeper the bottom layer of eyes are below the original picture, the stronger the eye-following effect.  You can cut more blank pages of cardstock to make the eyes recede more.  However, going too deep begins to look absurd.  I like two layers of blanks on a small picture like this.  A larger picture allows for more depth and a very small picture should only have one blank layer..

Step 6: Assembly

Glue together the stack of blanks, if you have more than one.  Glue especially well around the rectangular holes and hold them together with heavy books while the glue dries.

Apply glue to the top of the eye page everywhere but the eyes.  Line up the blank page(s) so the cut box is over the eyes and press it down.  Again, you may want to place a few heavy books on top to keep the pages flat while the glue dries.

Apply glue to the back of the photo page.  Arrange this over the other pages so the eyes are lined-up and press together.  Place books over the stack to hold it tight while the glue dries.

Once the glue is dry, frame your picture.

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    44 Discussions

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    lambsb

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Super duper! I never knew I needed one of these until now.... Great instructable! Hmmmm..... Got my card stock, printer, X-Acto ready. Now for a picture......

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    damianzuch

    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is great - I'm going to try it for my haunted house! Thanks so much!

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    NicholasM139

    7 weeks ago

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    roadnarrows

    4 years ago on Introduction

    What works for an even more dynamic effect is to put ping pong balls that have been cut in half behind the photo. The eyes will really freak you out when walking past them.

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    souzroadnarrows

    Reply 1 year ago

    Where do the half ping ping balls go? They replace the middle layer?

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    allen.benge

    3 years ago on Introduction

    When I was a kid, my aunt and uncle had a painting of a Native American whose eyes would follow you. I was terrified of it. To keep me out of a room, they would set a chair in the doorway and put the painting on it.

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    stevephillips131

    7 years ago on Step 6

    omg! i have that same book collection!!! this is really cool. i have a shot glass that follows the same concept. theres a picture of a "drunken buddy" on the outside of the glass and the eyes are painted on the inside. so he can watch u take a shot.

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    starshipminivancarolb4

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 6

    It's Time-Life Books' "The Enchanted World" series that are pictured stacked on top of pages with glue drying (this helps them to dry flat). The books were published in the 80's and sold through a mail order club. I used to find them for a few dollars each in a used book shop I frequented. I never got the full set though. I might have to look for used copies online to complete the set.

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    Looking4Rocks

    7 years ago on Step 3

    Anyone remember the movie Carrie? The last photo reminds me of the Jesus with the scary eyes!

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    Win Guy

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Just an FYI for everyone who's wondering what the painting is, it's a portrait of John Wycliffe Taylor, an oil on canvas from 1864, painted by John Everett Millais.

    You're welcome.

    Win Guy

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    TimPo

    7 years ago on Step 2

    I'd suggest editing a little, with a software like Photoshop or Gimp, the eyes that will be at bottom. Extending the white border of the eyeball, so depending on the view angle decreases or increases this area.
    Sorry for my english, I hope it could be understood.

    Sugeriría editar un poco, con un programa como Photoshop o Gimp, los ojos que estarán al fondo. Extendiendo el borde blanco del globo ocular, para que dependiendo del ángulo de vista aumente o dismunuya esta area.

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    starshipminivanTimPo

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    You can also use the eyes that have been cut out. Glue them onto white backing and use this in place of the eye layer.

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    mentalman

    7 years ago on Introduction

    I'm a wood carver this works real good with wood too ,
    The trick I was taught way back in the early 60's . By a hippy art teacher .
    Make the iris as close to perfectly round as you can.
    Then shade the eye into the socket like under the top lid and in the corners.
    On a painting or sculpture or what have you. That seems to be the key.
    But this method works well too.
    I did a fine line ink drawing , just 10 inches tall , of Jesus when I was 18 and people used to get chills looking at it.
    They would always comment with excitement .
    "Wow ! It looks like he is looking directly at me no matter where I am in the room.
    Just never tell them how you did it. and the magic stays with them.

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    mrmerino

    7 years ago on Step 3

    Now, the third picture...
    That's creepy.