The Stairwell Believers
by Taylor Derrisaw | published May. 14th, 2014
During Imagine RIT 2013, film and animation graduate students Michael Lacanilao and Brianna Byrne displayed their elaborate and intricate project: the Escherian Stairwell.
The supposedly endless staircase that loops itself in the Gannett building has gained widespread media attention as millions of viewers were unable to explain the seamless editing done by the two students.
Lacanilao and Byrne have gone to great lengths to make the story believable, even making a fake Facebook account for the architect, Rafael Nelson Aboganda, who supposedly made the stairwell in the 1960’s.
At the beginning of the project, Byrne and Lacanilao consulted multiple professors to determine how to start the project. “I had this idea of a stairwell, and it became my grad thesis,” commented Lacanilao, “I was trying to get advice on how we can do this, [and] how we can do this effectively.”
The result was a video 39 seconds in length that involved a subject who started talking to one person at the top of the stairwell then walking down the stairwell and meeting the same person at the bottom, producing a seamless edit that multiple filmmakers have failed to produce previously.
“The innovation is something that you don’t even notice while watching it, and that’s what good editing is,” commented Byrne, “People think it’s believable, the performances are believable, and they’re all actors that rehearsed for months.”
After the video went viral, multiple networks across the globe tried to explain the phenomenon. Particularly one in Brazil brought on special effects experts to explain the seamless edit. “They were breaking this clip down frame by frame trying to figure out how we did it; and they had all these experts talking —and they’re wrong--- some people said ‘they used elevators’…stuff like that,” Lacanilao said with a laugh.
Lacanilao and Byrne pose a problem with an internet-reliant society. “The culture of just searching for something online and being able to get something ‘verifiable’, there is something problematic about that,” commented Byrne. “…Use Google first before you think about it… We’re just posing this problem, really.”
“It would be tragic as a society if we let the internet think for us,” added Lacanilao.
Lacanilao and Byrne have been working through Kickstarter.com to raise funds for a documentary scheduled to release in December, along with the fake websites that support the myth.
The documentary set in 1998 will feature students and experts, many of whom are well known in their field, trying to prove the staircase’s existence. The cast will be given contemporary clothing and the cameramen will use authentic 1990’s equipment.
“We’re really trying to get RIT in on it,” commented Lacanilao. “In December, if it breaks through it could get everywhere,” Byrne continued.
Lacanilao and Byrne both hope the RIT community will join them to make awareness of the stairwell myth known, rallying together as many believers as possible to reinforce the myth’s validity. “People feel good about actually being a part of creating it… its like saying ‘They couldn’t have made that without me,’” said Lacanilao.
“Anyone who helps us will get updates from us as we’re shooting, and then in December… everyone is going to post it on Twitter, and we’ll leave it up to their friends to find what we planted,” commented Lacanilao.
The rewards for contributing on Kickstarter involve souvenirs such as T-Shirts and pens that have punch-lines such as “I went to the Escherian Staircase and all I got was this stupid T-shirt”. “It helps people play along with it by showing ‘This is something I got from the gift shop!’” added Byrne, “But beyond that we just want RIT to know about it and when they see it to play along with it, really.”
If any students would like to be a part of the Stairwell Believer project, they can back the Kickstarter project or contact Brianna Byrne at email@example.com.