Edinburgh's Camera Obscura: You won't believe your eyes at £1.2m revamp

WITH a bunny girl jumping out of a magician's top hat, the city fathers who shut down one of the wonders of Victorian Scotland for being "a vulgar peep show attracting people of ill- repute" may have thought they made the right decision.

• 'Bunny girl' Annabel Hutchison with magician Kevin McMahon in the Ames Room. Picture: Julie Bull

But the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, in Edinburgh's Royal Mile, went on to enchant generations with a mixture of magic and science, and today opens its doors after a 1.2 million renovation offering a host of cutting-edge interactive exhibitions.

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One of the new star turns of Scotland's oldest purpose-built tourist attraction, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, is the Ames Room, which instantly transforms anyone entering it into a giant or dwarf.

Originally created by Adelbert Ames in the 1930s, the concept was also used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy during scenes with Gandalf and the Hobbits.

Using optical illusions, the room features a sloping chequered floor and windows that instantly alter the eye's perspective. Magician Kevin McMahon, a former physicist and director of the inaugural Edinburgh Magic Fest, who used the room's illusions to shrink "bunny" Annabel Hutchison, said: "This is an ideal playground which totally plays with your perception."

Another two "firsts" for Scotland are the Vortex Tunnel and the "get lost" Mirror Maze.

In the Vortex Tunnel, visitors walk through a large horizontal cylinder swirling with fast-moving flashing lights skimming its interior, making users think it is spinning upside down.

The Mirror Maze appears as a series of linked "corridors" set at angles, with rows of pink, blue and green lights running along the floor. But visitors, who are advised to walk with their arms held straight out in front of them, come to an abrupt halt when what appears to be a clear space in front of them is suddenly blocked by a mirror panel reflecting back an image of themselves.

A number of other attractions to be unveiled over the summer include a Beuchet chair, which makes anyone sitting on it appear Tom Thumb-sized.

Andrew Johnson, the project's director, made numerous trips to European science centres and consulted optical illusion experts before selecting the new exhibits.

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He said: "This is a landmark event in our history. With the addition of exclusive exhibits such as the Ames Room, there is an endless amount of interactive fun to be had. We hope that the new space will encourage visitors both young and old to come and join us in celebrating our momentous anniversary year."

The Royal Mile centre attracts up to 1,000 visitors daily during the summer months.

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