How The RIT Stairwell Illusion Works

We already know that staircases that end where they begin can’t exist. They are illusions, impossible objects. The RIT Stairwell can’t exist in real life; thus, it must be fake. In the RIT video, a host sends a student up the staircase, and when the student reaches the next flight, she is greeted by her host. Or is she? The video relies on the fake viral video technique of using a continuous take to convince you that what you’re seeing is real, and what you’re seeing here is real. A girl reaches the top of the staircase and sees her host. Or it could be a guy who looks a lot like the host, a twin.

We see an inversion of this trick later in the video. Instead of sending a student up the stairs, the host descends the stairs, meeting the guy he left at the top of the stairs. Or maybe he meets a guy who looks like the guy he left at the top of the stairs, another twin. This sequence uses another technique to convince us that what we’re seeing is real: the students holding hands around the staircase. Why go to such elaborate lengths to convince us this is real? This was originally a Kickstarter project by students at the Rochester Institute Of Technology to “create a myth” by producing a short film in time for the Imagine Rochester festival, on May 4th, 2013.

The Kickstarter sought $12,000 for production and only raised $940. The filmmakers were going to create the myth by developing supplemental materials to support the idea that people had been talking about this for a while (ala The Blair Witch Project), including creating clips from of a 1997 TV show with people talking about the staircase. Although they didn’t reach their goal, they had already begun production and clearly finished in time for the festival. Many of you pointed out that this video was fake and questioned why we would post an obvious fake. The better question is why wouldn’t we? While I hate most viral marketing campaigns, A good fake can be a good time, and some of the most memorable videos we’ve ever posted have been fakes. So enjoy the video, send it to your friends, and then tell all your friends about the history of the Penrose Stairs.


Earnest (@earnestp on Twitter)

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