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99% Invisible #65- Razzle Dazzle (Director's Cut)

From: Roman Mars
Series: 99% Invisible (Director's Cut)
Length: 10:15

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This is probably not what you think of when you think of camouflage. Read the full description.

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[For standard 4:30 length version, go to: http://www.prx.org/pieces/90040-99-invisible-65-razzle-dazzle-standard-4-30-ve]

Becoming invisible with your surroundings is only one type of camouflage.  Camofleurs call this high similarity or blending camouflage.  But camouflage can also take the opposite approach.  

Think about zebras: it's hypothesized that their stripes make it difficult for a predator to distinguish one from another when the zebras are in a large herd. The stripes also might make zebras less attractive to blood sucking horseflies. This is called disruptive camouflage.

When it comes to humans, the greatest, most jaw-droppingly spectacular application of disruptive camouflage was called Dazzle.

Dazzle painting emerged in the 1910s as design solution to a very dire problem: American and British ships were being sunk left and right by German U-Boats. England needed to import supplies to fight the Central Powers, and these ships were sitting ducks in the Atlantic Ocean.  They needed a way to fend of the torpedoes.  

Conventional high-similarity camouflage just doesn't work in the open sea.  Conditions like the color of the sky, cloud cover, and wave height change all the time, not to mention the fact that there's no way to hid all the smoke left by the ships' smoke stacks.  

The strategy of this high-difference, dazzle camouflage was not about invisibility.  It was about disruption.  Confusion.

Torpedoes in the Great War could only be fired line-of-sight, so instead of firing at where they saw the ship was at that moment, torpedo gunners would have to chart out where the ship would be by the time the torpedo got there.  They had to determine the target ship's speed and direction with just a brief look through the periscope. 

The torpedo gunner's margin of error for hitting a ship was quite low.  Dazzle painting could throw off an experienced submariner by as much as 55 degrees.  

A journalist at the time referred to these dazzling ships as "a flock of sea-going Easter eggs."

An American "Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps" did some of the painting.

Our expert this week is Roy Behrens, a professor graphic design at the University of Northern Iowa.  He's published several books about camouflaue, and also runs the Camoupedia blog.

Also in the 99% Invisible (Director's Cut) series

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The man who put parentheses around area codes.
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99% Invisible #89- Bubble Houses (23:48)
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Buildings of the future, once.
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99% Invisible #88- The Broadcast Clock (14:53)
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99% Invisible #87- I Heart NY, TM (19:44)
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By now, the story is well known. A man sits in the backseat of a cab, sketching on a notepad as night falls over a crumbling city.
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99% Invisible #86-Reversal of Fortune (19:14)
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When Chicago was up the proverbial creek.
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99% Invisible #85- Noble Effort (16:46)
From: Roman Mars

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99% Invisible #82- The Man of Tomorrow (11:14)
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A giant leap for radio. Flight for TV.
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99% Invisible #81- Rebar and the Alvord Lake Bridge (11:30)
From: Roman Mars

The steal skeleton underneath the all the concrete structures that you work in, drive over, and walk under…
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99% Invisible #83- Heyoon (27:07)
From: Roman Mars

Bored and disaffected and angry, Alex longed for a place to escape to. And then he found Heyoon.

Piece Description

[For standard 4:30 length version, go to: http://www.prx.org/pieces/90040-99-invisible-65-razzle-dazzle-standard-4-30-ve]

Becoming invisible with your surroundings is only one type of camouflage.  Camofleurs call this high similarity or blending camouflage.  But camouflage can also take the opposite approach.  

Think about zebras: it's hypothesized that their stripes make it difficult for a predator to distinguish one from another when the zebras are in a large herd. The stripes also might make zebras less attractive to blood sucking horseflies. This is called disruptive camouflage.

When it comes to humans, the greatest, most jaw-droppingly spectacular application of disruptive camouflage was called Dazzle.

Dazzle painting emerged in the 1910s as design solution to a very dire problem: American and British ships were being sunk left and right by German U-Boats. England needed to import supplies to fight the Central Powers, and these ships were sitting ducks in the Atlantic Ocean.  They needed a way to fend of the torpedoes.  

Conventional high-similarity camouflage just doesn't work in the open sea.  Conditions like the color of the sky, cloud cover, and wave height change all the time, not to mention the fact that there's no way to hid all the smoke left by the ships' smoke stacks.  

The strategy of this high-difference, dazzle camouflage was not about invisibility.  It was about disruption.  Confusion.

Torpedoes in the Great War could only be fired line-of-sight, so instead of firing at where they saw the ship was at that moment, torpedo gunners would have to chart out where the ship would be by the time the torpedo got there.  They had to determine the target ship's speed and direction with just a brief look through the periscope. 

The torpedo gunner's margin of error for hitting a ship was quite low.  Dazzle painting could throw off an experienced submariner by as much as 55 degrees.  

A journalist at the time referred to these dazzling ships as "a flock of sea-going Easter eggs."

An American "Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps" did some of the painting.

Our expert this week is Roy Behrens, a professor graphic design at the University of Northern Iowa.  He's published several books about camouflaue, and also runs the Camoupedia blog.