Setting the Stage for Deception. Perspective Distortion in World War I Camouflage

Roy R. Behrens


During World War I, in response to substantial advancements in wartime surveillance, it became a common practice to rely on “vision specialists” to devise effective methods of fooling the enemy (tromper l’ennemi). These methods, collectively referred to now as camouflage, were designed by so-called camoufleurs, men who in civilian life had been trained as artists, graphic designers, architects, and theatre scenographers. Among the techniques they employed (for both ground and ship camouflage) were perspective-based spatial distortions, of the sort that are also frequently used in theatrical set design, trompe l’oeil paintings, and wildlife displays (called habitat dioramas). This paper describes these methods, explains how they were intended to work, and discusses their effectiveness.


camouflage; dazzle-painting; perspective; anamorphosis; scenography

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