An optical illusion

It’s been bugging me for ages.

For ages, I’ve been bothered by a problem with my model railway layout.

When people view it from the front, their attention is naturally drawn to the mill house with its moving waterwheel, it’s is one of the layout’s most prominent.

The river, on which the mill sits, flows from the front to the back of the layout.

However, there’s a problem where the mill house forms a bridge. The river flows underneath it, but I’d left the wooden framework of the layout visible under the bridge, thus spoiling the illusion. Instead of the river extending into the distance as expected, they see the unsightly background of the construction materials at the rear of the layout.

This issue is clearly evident in the accompanying photo.

Photo showing layout construction visible under bridge of model railway.

Thankfully, I realised this would be an issue from day one and had a solution in mind. I just hadn’t gotten around to implementing it yet, and it had been bugging me.

The solution is a technique I’ve used before: using mirrors to create an optical illusion.

By placing mirrors at a slight forward-leaning angle at the back of the river, they reflect whatever is in the lower part of the front view instead of what’s further back. This effectively gives the impression that the river continues onward.

As long as the edges of the mirror can be disguised, which I was able to do in this case, it creates a very convincing illusion as this photo of the same scene but with mirror added shows.

Photo showing mirror hiding rear of model railway layout

Adding a mirror makes a world of difference.

In this case, I simply dropped a small makeup mirror, with a blob of Blu-tack fixed to its rear at the top, down behind the mill building where it meets the back scene. The Blu-tack pushed the top forward, creating the angle needed.

Once in place, I dabbed resin glue around the base to hold it in place.

The resulting view works well, the optical illusion fooling the eye of the viewer into believing that the river continues meandering off into the distance.

This post is part of a series on the construction of a lifelike model railway for exhibitions. To read other posts in the series covering its development, track work, scenery and model building making, see building an exhibition model railway.

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Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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