Small, or far away?

Experiment with your perception of distance and size by making the amazing Ames room illusion.


Make your drawings look three-dimensional, and build an Ames room illusion.

ExpeRiment with your ability to recognise how small or far away things are.

Learn how we make assumptions about size and distance based on experience.

  • Media

    A ruler
    Ames room template (there's a colour one or a black and white one, if to save ink!) printed on stiff paper, or glued to card
    Two small toys, lego figures are ideal

About this activity

We know that a toy car is much smaller than a real one, but when you hold a car up to your eye and compare it to a car in the distance, they can look the same size.

We intuitively understand this, but thinking about why this happens is the start of a fun experiment to investigate how our brains make sense of the three dimensional world around us. In this video, Dwain and Sahara learn a simple trick to make their drawings look three-dimensional, and then build an Ames room: a classic illusion that plays a trick on your mind with strange proportions.

Download the templates (here's a colour Ames room template, or a black and white Ames room template) to build your own model here. Do you think the illusion would work on a big scale too? Watch this video about a life-sized room we built for the 2011 CHRISTMAS LECTURES: 

Tell us your thoughts

We want to know what you think of this series of ExpeRimental, to make sure we create the best possible resources in the future. Please fill out our survey and tell us your thoughts. To say thanks, we'll enter everyone who fills out the survey into a £100 prize-draw.

More ExpeRimental activities