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Masters of Illusion [VHS] (1991)

 NR |  VHS Tape
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Format: Color, NTSC
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Number of tapes: 1
  • Studio: Homevision
  • VHS Release Date: June 13, 2000
  • Run Time: 30 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 630330429X
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #315,206 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Editorial Reviews


The extraordinary special effects we enjoy in films today are based on principles established more than 500 years ago by Renaissance masters such as Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, and Raphael. This film examines artistic and scientific discoveries of the Renaissance, provides new insight into a remarkable visual revolution, and uses modern technology to analyse the old masters in amazing new ways.


This documentary hosted by James Burke is a fascinating examination of the concept of how we see things, specifically how images that appear to our eyes to be three-dimensional are rendered convincingly on flat surfaces. Starting out in a movie studio special effects lab, Burke explains how visual illusions practiced today actually began during the Renaissance, when painters first mastered the skills of incorporating the idea of depth into paintings. The principle of "linear perspective," in which parallel lines all diverge to a common vanishing point, sounds complicated, but the examples shown in this documentary make the idea perfectly clear to the layperson. By way of contrast, paintings completed before the Renaissance are shown, and it's immediately clear to the viewer that artists who hadn't mastered perspective drew scenes that appear flat on the canvas. But when artists such as Brunelleschi and Michelangelo practiced using perspective, art suddenly jumped forward. Quotes from Leonardo da Vinci's writings, in which he talked about perspective and the effects of light, are offered along with examples of his paintings that illustrate beautifully how a master used a scientific principle to create great art. This is an unusual documentary that makes fascinating a subject that most people have never considered, though it relates to things we see everyday. --Robert J. McNamara

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best - we need this on DVD! November 20, 2003
This exploration of visual illusions, explained by James Burke in the context of its discovery by the Renaissance masters, and now used by Hollywood special effects wizards is certainly of the most valuable and entertaining educational videos ever produced. If you teach art or film, or if you are a student of any age, your education is incomplete unless you have seen this film.
Works of Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, Rapheal and others are used to illustrate the technical and artistic achievements of the Renaissance, but within a very contemporary context of how we see the world in reality or artificial illusion. This is about the discovery of how to make a two dimensional image appear in three dimensions through an understanding of light, shadow, color, and vanishing point perspective.
Seeing this film on low resolution VHS does not do justice to the quality of these master works. This film is a prime candidate for release on DVD. So, when will the world be able to learn from this extraordinary work in the detail and resolution only DVD can achieve?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is my art students favorite video! July 3, 2000
High school art students get bored easily, so I try and show only interestings videos to them and Masters of Illusion always holds their attention. This video starts with super special effects and goes on to explain how artists (even todays specialized graphic artists) use the principals of perspective. A video must for those teaching or interested in art!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In Praise of "Masters of Illusion" January 18, 2002
As a professor of Art Appreciation in Dallas, I have found this video to be a wonderful asset to my course. The narration and images serve to explain the invention and the subsequent history and adaptations of perspective in a very entertaining and colorful way. My students therefore are able to retain the knowledge much more easily.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good High School Video September 28, 2003
This is an excellent video for high school; it's a little sophisticated for 7th & 8th grades, but not entirely out of their reach. The tie-in to films is a little misleading for the kids, but the video makes up for this by covering a broad range in perceptual concepts and by keeping things moving for younger viewers. Well worth the time & money for teachers. Can be used for both studio and academic classes.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but beware of errors July 16, 2006
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I enjoyed watching the video and have used portions of it in the university classes that I teach. Technically, it is quite good and the story line is captivating. But the slick production value of the video doesn't guarantee that they got all the facts right. I've heard grumblings about the National Gallery focusing on famous artists, giving them more credit for innovations than they deserve. For instance, Durer was a great artist, but the makers of this film give too much credit. Durer's contributions to linear perspective are overstated in the video, and his understanding of linear perspective was actually quite poor. I found it helpful to supplement my understanding by reading articles by Christopher Tyler (available online) that clarify the history and facts surrounding the development of linear perspective. Tyler is one of the great unheralded scientists of our generation, so take a look at his work in this area (mostly available online, via the Smith-Kettlewell website, I think).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
James Burke has poignantly caught the excitement of Renaissance painters discovering perspective, and he explains visual principles, while nicely presenting the changes that occurred in art. I really enjoyed his commentary how different artists Durer, Da Vinci, and Michaelangelo, Raphael et al thought, spoke, and played with image and illusion, as well as light and color. Quite informative for learning art, but also useful for teaching perception and thinking. This video was a delightful trip back in time and makes one more sensitive to the power of representation that guide perception and experience. I will never look at the painting "The School of Athens" again in the same way.
This video is short and sweet and creates a hunger for more.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting But Not Outstanding March 26, 2005
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I bought this because it was used in a class I am taking and I wanted to review it. The price seems high for such a short (about 30 minutes) tape. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable and educational. It summarizes how the painters of the Renaissance developed mathematical models that enabled them to create realistic-looking perspective in their work, so that a flat painting could appear three-dimensional. The past is linked with the present, since these same principles are still being used today to create realistic sets and special effects for movies. The material should be easily understood by anyone at a high school level or above.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars educational, informative, entertaining August 15, 2000
I used this video in my World History clases to teach Renaisssance art. The students enjoyed it. Good pace, not too detailed, yet loaded with information.
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