Why Mirrored Images Feel Like Bad Reflections

Many artists and observant folks are already well aware that creating an image with a reflection is an art and that it can be very jarring when one is poorly crafted.  This is a brief post where I explore specifically what optically is wrong when a reflection is created by mirroring an image.

First we have to understand how real reflections look.  Let’s say we have a situation where an observer sees an object that is being reflected by the ground (it’s made of glass, there’s a layer of water, whatever) in Fig A below.

Fig A:

2019-04-11 21.14.42

In this case, the observer sees the physical object at one angle and the reflection at a slightly different angle.  In Fig B, I’ve updated Fig A to show a 90 degree viewing angle to the physical object and an approximately 45 degree viewing angle to the image.  Depending on the shape of the object, this may allow the observer to see more of the “underneath” surfaces in the reflection.

Fig B:

2019-04-11 21.15.26

Now, if I am in the process of creating a fake reflection where I’ve simply taken an image of an object and flipped the pixels, the flipped image because it is 2D is at the same viewing angle to the observer as the unflipped image.  Since in a real optical setting, the image should appear at a steeper angle, now it appears to be leaned in towards the observer (Fig C).

Fig C:

2019-04-11 21.17.06

And an even more fascinating realization is that for such a case to even be physically possible, the reflective surface would have to be bifurcating the angle between the image and its reflection and be perfectly in line with the observer’s eye (Fig D).  The fact that this is a physically impossible situation means that seeing such a reflection should feel completely alien and unsettling, especially in a doctored or Photoshopped or drawn image.

Fig D:

2019-04-11 21.18.30

Now of course this is an extreme simplification of the situation.  Clever artists know that distance matters as well.  Shrinking the reflection to accommodate for it’s perceived increased distance helps the reflection feel like it is in the right place.  In addition, if the reflective surface has texture and is not completely clear, the observer’s mind will fill in the gaps and think that the image should make sense.  Finally, as the distance between the observer and the object increases, the delta between the viewing angles of the object and the reflection becomes a negligible difference anyway.

Nonetheless, I found it to be an interesting thought exercise to explore the physical reality (or non-reality) that may sometimes underlie a gut feeling of a mirrored image being “wrong.”

Chinese New Year 2017 Graphic

For this Chinese New Years, I wanted to take a shot at making my own version of a graphic hat captured the year of the rooster.

A quick look revealed a lot of designs that were very stylistic or that only hinted at the rooster partially.  I decided that I wanted to attempt something that utilized the whole number as part of the rooster while retaining the legibility of the numbers.


A quick initial investigation on the form revealed to me where I would like the numbers to be and I then began to bring the numbers back to a more legible state.


Attempting to keep the numbers in a printed font like state proved difficult as the blockiness conflicted with he angles I wanted for the rooster (the upwards angle of the head and neck and of the tail).  I ended up deciding to angle the numbers slightly up at each end to accommodate this.


Then it was onwards to the calligraphy.  Ink is a very punishing medium; without layers and undo buttons, a single mistake on a later stroke can make an entire image trash.  On the other hand, this means that you get a lot of practice, and by the final draft, every stroke is very familiar to you.

As I started, I still needed to play with thickness and dryness of the brush.


With a bit of workshopping with my friend Dan Lin (https://aeveis.tumblr.com/), here is my final version below.


EDS End of Semester Reflection

My Fall 2012 elective, Entertainment Design Studio, is over.  I’ve finished what was essentially an independent study in Fight Choreography and Filmography, and throwing myself right in to it (literally) has shown me a lot.  Even at the beginning of this semester, I knew that one semester of coursework would provide me no mastery in this field, but I do feel like I have seen a lot and become aware of the processes and considerations that a producer of fight scenes needs to be aware of.


  • Designing for your actors is essential for them to pull off a convincing performance and stay safe, but you need to know them almost as well as you know yourself.
  • The best fights fit in a larger universe.  What do they characters want other than to hurt each other?  How did they end up in this situation?  Et cetera.  Barring all of that, it’s still possible to design a technique-ly impressive fight.
  • A fight is a physical altercation; pick a location first and incorporate its space.
  • Pacing a fight and creating “phrases” of combat is the same as creating any plot/interest curve.
  • You will run up into many issues:  costuming, lighting, sound effects, etc.  Know they exist, know what your team is capable of doing well, and make clear what you are not.


  • Because images cannot show depth (except for 3D film now), stacking a strike and its intended target along the line of sight of the camera without the two actually meeting is still the best way to fake “contact.”
  • Stunt performers are actors foremost.  They might get “hit” for 4 frames, but they need to sell that hit for the next 24 frames or so.  Being able to exaggerate a reaction to something that never happened will make or break a fight scene faster than an incorrectly thrown punch.
  • Practice a fight scene like a kata or even better like a dance.  It’s controlled chaos; at every moment, people need to know where they should be and where everyone else should be.  More importantly, they should know when something is wrong and when to stop if their partner misses a beat.
  • Previous combat experience therefore can be a detriment to a fight performer.  Instincts to not give tells or exaggerate, instincts to break the opponents rhythm, and instincts to always keep one’s guard up all work against the aforementioned good practices.
  • Always have a third eye watching a performance, because the performance will eventually have to look good to a camera, and that point brings us to:


  • There is an intimate relationship between filming and performing a fight scene.  It’s almost impossible to find the best camera angles without being able to constantly move around the constantly moving performers, and vice versa, to perform properly to the camera if it is not there.  Specifically, because strikes and their targets need to stack relative to the camera as mentioned above, all three (attacker, victim, camera) all need to move together to avoid revealing “dead air.”
  • The 180 degree rule holds in shooting a fight scene for the purpose of continuity when editing.  There are however plenty of opportunities to let the action dictate when the 180 degree line will change.
  • In the same shot, film the actions before and after whatever is being showcased.  E.g. recovering from the previous punch, doing the complete backflip kick, and getting ready for the next kick.  You need this to be able to cut on an action to show rapid continuity while editing.


  • Editing a fight scene and its surprising number of shot angles is a stylistic art itself.  Long master shots to show off the performance.  Rapid close-ups to emphasize the emotional intensity.  When to switch between them and how to emphasize them.  You will have a preference; the editor will have a preference; the director will film to a preference.
  • Speeding up the performance for more impact is subtle and tricky.  Simply speeding up film can feel gimmicky and weird if done for more than fractions of a second or if the performers did not also do certain actions slower.  Removing single frames in places can help at key moments but it is exact and time-consuming.  What I found was best for compressing time was cutting on actions.  Perhaps performer A delivers kicks slowly but if you cut from one shot of A preparing their kick to a different one of B receiving the kick, you can lose that second in between and the audience still fills in the gap.  Note: This can keep the pace of the fight up, but it will not remedy performer A looking slow whenever they are on screen.

And to end on, here are selected bloopers from the semester: