Morph-O-Scopes: Helping to Develop Children’s Minds with Anamorphic Illusion Pictures

Paloma Basilio

In a technology-driven world, Myrna Hoffman created an anamorphic toy called Morph-O-Scopes. An engaging, technology-free product that develops creativity and builds motor skills in children.

anamorphic children’s educational toy

Credit: Myrna Hoffman

How Does Morph-O-Scopes Anamorphic Illusion Work?

The toy utilizes mirror anamorphosis, used in anamorphic art, which is an optical illusion that uses the help of a reflector. The toy utilizes a mirror to act as the reflector as a disoriented image is projected on the reflector’s surface. These images are often referred to as anamorphic pictures.

The History of Anamorphic Illusion Pictures

Mirror anamorphosis was an illusion invented in China about 500 years ago, according to Hoffman, but the anamorphic illusion concept first came about for pornographic reasons. It has since gone on to be used for other reasons such as for spies disguising messages from the government.

“The astonishing invention was then presented to Sultan Ahmed I of Constantinople, and from there it was brought to the attention of Leonardo da Vinci and other Italian Renaissance artists,” according to the toy’s website. Renaissance artists at the time were figuring out how to create 3-D art on a 2-D canvas. “Anamorphical art thrived for about 300 years until photography came about around the 1800s,” Hoffman said.

The Idea, Concept and Production

So, what is a Morph-O-Scopes? Well, it consists of a coloring book, a box of crayons, and two frustum-shaped mirrors which the child must assemble themselves, making a cool illusion game. There are two different illusion kits—the circus and sports kits. Each kit comes with 32 illusion activities, from coloring to connect the dots. Everything is made in the United States and “meets or exceeds the highest U.S. toy safety standards,” the toy’s creator, Hoffman, said. The kits are designed to fit on a tray table which makes it perfect for children while traveling.

According to Hoffman, she is the only person in the world to have taken this concept and made it kid-friendly by incorporating anamorphic pictures with child interaction. Hoffman’s concept for Morph-O-Scopes is simple. “[I want] as many kids as possible to have access to a Morph-O-Scopes because it is valuable brain food,” she said.

Nvate Morph-O-Scopes by Myrna Hoffman children’s educational toy

Credit: Myrna Hoffman

Morph-O-Scopes helps children develop hand and eye coordination by making the children do some of the work. For example, there are a few anamorphic connect the dot pictures which, without the mirror, would be impossible to connect and create the illusions. When placing the frustum-shaped anamorphic mirror in the center, the child is able to connect the dots. Hoffman said the Morph-O-Scopes “have shown to resonate with all kinds of children on the spectrum.”

Hoffman said she “went through many shapes for the mirror.” She tried a cylinder-shaped mirror, but it was unstable and she ultimately decided to create a frustum- shaped mirror which can also be used to hold crayons. The shape of the mirror is quite important because it determines the shape of the morph.

Hoffman discovered the anamorphic illusion concept on her lunch break at Harvard University where she was studying technical illustration. She was walking around one of Harvard’s museums where she saw a display of a miniature anamorphic drawing with a tiny mirror. She instantly fell in love with the concept and figured out how to recreate it.

Years later, at the eve of her daughter’s seventh birthday, Hoffman wanted her daughter and her daughter’s friends to have a great time at the party so she remembered back to the pictures she saw years earlier and decided to draw anamorphic drawings of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

The illusions were a big hit with the girls and their parents encouraged Hoffman to make anamorphic pictures into a business. Hoffman took the parents’ advice and created the anamorphic toy, which she termed Morph-O-Scopes. A friend of Hoffman asked her to create a travel-sized version for her kids to keep them entertained on a long flight. That is when the tray table size was produced. She has actively been producing her anamorphic toy since 1993.

When Hoffman first created the Morph-O-Scopes she drew each anamorphic picture by hand, but as the demand for the product grew, she had a software program developed that took 45 minutes to print one morph illusion. Several years later, Hoffman’s daughter, who works for Microsoft, rewrote the program. It now takes one minute, 12 seconds to print one morph illusion.

Nvate Morph-O-Scopes by Myrna Hoffman, anamorphic toy, children’s educational toy

This is Morph-O-Scopes’ creator Myrna Hoffman. Credit: Myrna Hoffman

The Morph-O-Scopes kit has won 25 awards, including Dr. Toy Awards’ 10 Best Creative Products and 100 Best Children’s Products. It has also won Creative Child Magazine’s Seal of Excellence, as stated on the product’s website.

Amazon is a big buyer of the Morph-O-Scopes, with each anamorphic kit selling for $19.99. Ventures, a store located in the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Wash., sells the toy as well.

Hoffman’s hope or the Morph-O-Scopes is to promote school fundraisers. She hopes to “get into schools and have each child in the school make a drawing,” she said. Hoffman will sit down with the school committee, or PTA, and select 40 of the drawings.

Hoffman will morph the drawings free of charge and give the anamorphic pictures to the PTA, who will then be responsible for copying and binding the books. Hoffman will provide the mirrors and the students will be responsible for selling the books for around $6. In return, Hoffman will ask that at least 200 copies are sold. According to Hoffman, the students will gain “genuine educational value” through hands-on experience in raising money for their school.

Morph-O-Scopes anamorphic illusion kits, party packs as well as packets are available on Morph-O-Scopes website.

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