Look at this poster. Look closer. Now those of you who see a giant unicorn in Gotham City’s skyline, raise your hand. For those who didn’t immediately make it out, maybe viewing the image as an icon will help:
While fans across the globe eagerly received the recently released teaser poster for the third installment of Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman series, a few of us were left scratching our heads, wondering if the illusion was intended by Warner Bros to hint at the next big action franchise (perhaps something along the lines of Charlie the Unicorn: The Ascent) or merely an overlooked design error.
Interestingly, the franchise has a history of releasing ambiguous teaser posters. The following image for 1989’s Batman had audiences wondering what those big gold baby teeth had to do with Tim Burton’s upcoming film.
The art for Burton’s 1992 follow up, Batman Returns, faired no better, being recalled and replaced following mass audience confusion.
Having now been exposed to the above symbols for two decades, it’s difficult to understand the confusion. However we must remember that we tend to perceive dark areas as the ‘ground’ against which lighter ‘figures’ stand out. (Remember the old ‘two faces or a vase’ optical illusion?)
Given the importance of social media to the entertainment industry (/the world), and the importance of thumbnails to social media, it seems that scale is as important as ever. Make an image smaller and you’ll notice that in addition to the obvious loss of detail, perception is affected, the contents often become more realistic and certain aspects take prominence. In the absence of further detail, the Gestalt perceptual principle of ‘Figure and Ground’ gets to work.
Who knew that all this new technology would actually give us reason to dig out the old, dusty textbooks and brush up on our theory?