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Bop It: A story of the popular toy from the 90s

When the creator of Magic Eye, Tom Baccei, general Mills executives in the offices of his N.E. As a company of Thing Enterprises, he led her to a cereal mock-up advertisement in 1994, which he had put together by his employees. The board showed a cereal bowl and a poorly defined series of points. When their eyes relaxed, the executives could see the “hidden” message in the bowl: BUY ME.

"Oh, no, we can't," said one manager.

Baccei thought it was funny. At the time, his company did not need subliminal news to be successful. The sale of products with its hugely popular Magic Eye illustrations, which appeared to be two-dimensional abstract images until the viewer's brain "switched" and was perceived as a three-dimensional image, was $ 1

00 million. Two Magic Eye books were on the bestseller list of the New York Times . Posters, coffee cups, Hallmark cards, games and postcards were decorated with the visual effect. Soon they would be on boxes of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios too. Baccei knew they were all staring at a fad, but he was determined to make the most of it.

The Magic Eye images were based on principles dating back to 1828, when the English physicist Sir Charles Wheatstone invented a device called the stereoscope that could combine two images to create the illusion of depth. The trick amused kings like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In 1959, a cognitive psychologist named Béla Julesz was able to visualize these illustrations, known as single-frame random point stereograms, with the naked eye. To achieve this, Julesz created a picture of uniform, randomly distributed points. A circular room would move slightly in a second picture. When viewed side by side, a circle seemed to "float" over the background. Julesz proved that depth perception is a function of the brain, not the eye.

This stereopsis or the 3D effect works because the brain essentially connects the two to one another to avoid double images. Further work by visual neuroscientist Christopher Tyler in the 1970s condensed the illusion into a single image. But it would be Baccei who would turn this clever eyesight into a national phenomenon.

In the 1970s, Baccei was a bus driver for Green Tortoise, an alleged "hippie" transportation company. Finally, he worked for Pentica Systems, a computer hardware company outside of Boston, Massachusetts. There Baccei was commissioned to advertise a MIME in-circuit emulator that helped debug computer systems. Perhaps he inevitably hired a mime for advertising.

The actor Ron Labbe happened to be a lover of 3D photography and brought a stereo camera with him. When Baccei asked where he could get more information about the hobby, Labbe referred him to the magazine Stereo World . There Baccei saw one of the random single-point stereograms and was amused by the visual trick. While it appeared to be nothing more than television static, the focus on it revealed circles and dots.

He decided to design one for Pentica that "hid" the model number of a new product in the dotted image and asked readers to contact them for a price if they could see it. The ad became so popular that readers tore the page out of the magazine and stuck it in offices or faxed it to employees.

Baccei believed that he was up to something and worked with graphic artist Cheri Smith, who helped him create more commitment to images on a computer instead of the generic cliparts he used. A Pentica employee named Bob Salitsky was able to refine the points for a sharper picture. For example, look at a picture of some tropical fish and an aquarium would appear. Until 1991, Baccei worked on his own start-up, N.E. Thing Enterprises and take on tasks for the illustrations. One of the pictures appeared in American Airlines American Way where it caught the attention of Japanese business people. Baccei soon began working with Tenyo Co. Limited on a number of books and posters. While Baccei called the pictures Stare-e-os, the Amazing 3D Gaze Toys, the Japanese sold the pictures under the name Magic Eye.

This in-flight image also caught the eye of Mark Gregorek, a licensing agent who contacted Baccei, saying that there is incredible potential for partnering with other companies to create more Magic Eye content. Gregorek signed a contract in 1993 with Andrews McMeel and a number of other licensees. Magic Eye should start in America, although it is unlikely that anyone expected what would happen next.

After a first run of 30,000 copies of the sold-out Magic Eye book collection worth $ 12.95 (19459004), Andrews McMeel distributed 500,000 additional copies. Both Magic Eye and Magic Eye II became bestsellers. N.E. Thing Enterprises – which officially changed its name to Magic Eye in 1996 – signed contracts with many other companies for postcards, posters, a syndicated comic strip and 20 million cereal boxes. In mall kiosks, which were actually the product of a competing company called NVision Grafix, dozens of people were staring intently at the stereogram images. If one member of the group suddenly "understood" it, the others would continue to shine in frustration. Those who couldn't see the image – an estimate was up to 50 percent of people – were trained to bring their noses close to the surface but to keep their eyes away. As you slowly move the page away, an image of surprising depth appears. Magic Eye and similar products became a social obsession.

When the revenue exceeded $ 100 million, Baccei knew that he couldn't get everyone's attention forever. Like pet rock, hula hoop, and dozens of other fads, consumers would draw their attention somewhere else. There were also the inevitable imitations that could be sold for just $ 5 for a poster, compared to an official Magic Eye offer for $ 25. The attempt to humanize the images with a company mascot, the wizard Wizzy Nodwig, failed.

When business slowed in 1995, Baccei sold his portion of Magic Eye to graphic designer Smith and another partner, Andy Paraskevas. The company is still close, although it has turned its attention back to corporate customers who want to use the images for commercial purposes. You can check images on their website, but Magic Eye warns that the effect on the printed page works best.

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