If all you see when you first look at the image below is a parrot, it’s a testament to Johannes Stoetter’s talent. The artist is so deft at creating optical illusions that it takes a concentrated ocular effort to work out that this parrot is actual a person.
Stoetter has a way of making people disappear. He uses paint and clever contortions to blot out their humanity and invoke the animal kingdom. Early on, the artist painted mainly on canvas, but once he tried his hand at bodypainting in the late 1990s, he was hooked. Eventually he would go on to win the World Bodypainting Championship in 2012.
The artist’s first stabs at optical illusions were camouflage bodypainting efforts, in which he would make models fade into the background, similar to the preferred technique of advertisement-mainstay, Liu Bolin. The idea of transforming people into animals and other creations arrived in 2013, though, with a tropical frog illusion.
“The frog idea was born while I was looking at a bodypaint photo I’d done of two people kneeing face to face,” Stoetter says. “Suddenly their legs reminded me of frog legs. Immediately I tried to draw on paper, hoping that it would be possible to create a frog out of people. After five minutes I had the perfect frog. I tried the pose with five models, and it worked.”
Since then, the artist has kept busy, producing one after form-altering optical illusion. With meticulous attention to detail, Stoetter simultaneously grafts all the signature elements of the animal in question onto the model’s body, and obscures the lines and curves of their limbs and torsos. As he did with the frog, the artist first designs with pencil and paper. Then he makes bigger and bigger versions to ensure it holds up at scale. Eventually, he asks his models to try the pose and gets to work.
Stoetter says the most challenging part of creating an illusion like the recent parrot image is finding the animal’s shape with a human’s body, and getting the model into the right pose. He understands that there’s another side to that coin, though: “Of course, the model’s job is sometimes very difficult.”
Click through the slides above to see more stills that show off how the parrot illusion works.