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An image that contains a smaller replica of itself, which (being a replica of the image) contains a smaller replica of itself, which contains ... well, you get the idea. Like a fractal, but without all the complicated math.

For instance, take this cover of Spoof which shows the characters holding a copy of that very comic, whose cover depicts them holding ... a copy of the very same comic (with the same cover). Theoretically, there could be infinite recursion of that comic book in the image, though it's safe to assume that the printer doesn't have enough resolution to reproduce them all. (It's the thought that counts!)

See also Nested Stories and Dream Within a Dream, which has the layering but not the self-similarity. Also see Recursive Reality which is this trope on a cosmic level.

Named for the food company that was famous for using this trope in their ads. See also the Wikipedia article.


Examples


Advertising

  • Seen on several cereal packages. You know, the type that feature a picture of somebody having breakfast. Said breakfast of course centers on the cereal, with a package proudly displayed. On that package, we see somebody having said cereals for breakfast. And so on...
  • Royal Baking Powder.
  • Land O'Lakes Butter.

Anime

  • Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer had a scene where Ataru is in a room in the school building, looks through the doorway, and sees on the other side of the door the same room that he's in, complete with himself and the doorway, and past that doorway is the same room again, etc. (It seems that space itself is forming loops; earlier there was a scene where we see Mendo run up the stairs past the "camera", only to reappear coming up the same stair and go past the camera again.)

Art

  • M. C. Escher's "Print Gallery" is a very unusual take on this concept: It only shows one copy of the picture, but implies an infinite recursion all the same, using uneven magnification to make the contents of the picture merge with their real-world analogues.

Comics

  • In comics, it's called an infinity cover.
  • An issue of Runaways has Victor, a cyborg who was (unknowingly) being used to spy on the team, discover the TV screen where the camera in his eyes feeds back to. The result is himself, watching himself watching himself, watching himself watching himself watching himself, watching himself watching himself watching...
  • The cover of the Doom Patrol comic "The Painting that ate Paris" also has such a shot.
  • Used in The Beano back in 1954 [1].
  • The cover of the one-shot Elfquest anthology "Bedtime Stories" is like this.

Film

  • In Spaceballs, the titular bad guys watch the Spaceballs video tape to find out where the heroes are. Hilarity Ensues when they get to the exact point in the tape that they are watching, although the Droste effect is too small to see much of.
  • Happens in The Matrix Reloaded with the architect: The room's wall is filled with monitors depicting Neo in the room (and his various anticipated reactions), which in turn are rooms with monitors across all walls. There are several transitions where the scene zooms in on whichever monitor corresponds to Neo's actual reaction.
  • While not in the film itself, the box art for Memento.
  • Airplane! uses this when the air traffic controller, McCroskey, adopts a thoughtful pose in front of a framed photograph of himself holding the same pose. Airplane 2 The Sequel then cranks this Up to Eleven by posing McCroskey in front of a framed photo of himself posing in front of the framed photograph of himself.

Literature

  • "Jack's Story" from The Stinky Cheese Man could be considered a print version of this, as it features an infinite regression of the same story nested inside itself.
  • In The Mouse and His Child, much is made of a particular dog food label depicting a Droste Image of the dog holding the same can, complete with the same picture, continuing down ad nauseam. It's said that some grand revelation lies beyond "The Last Visible Dog", i.e. the smallest iteration that can still be seen.
  • The cover of the Little Golden Book My Christmas Treasury features a little boy and girl, and a cat and dog, sitting on a rug, reading a copy of the same book which features a little boy and girl, and a cat and dog, sitting on a rug...
  • The Ramona Quimby book Ramona Forever gets its title from a scene where Ramona does this with the angled mirrors in a dressing room.

Live Action TV

  • The first episode of The IT Crowd opens with one of these: A shot of Mr. Raynholm at his desk, with an identical scene on a picture hung on the wall. The camera then pans out to reveal another identical scene. When he starts talking, we see that we were actually looking at the picture on the real Mr. Raynholm's wall.
    • Square One TV did something similar to teach viewers the concept of infinity.
  • During Steve Martin's "I'm Me" song on Saturday Night Live, he notices a monitor showing live footage of him, thus creating this effect. "It's me, watching me, watching me!"
  • In Kamen Rider Decade, Decade's Transformation Sequence into his Complete Form invokes elements of this. Decade has a card of himself in Complete Form located on his forehead. Which has a card of that on its forehead, and so on. The sequence repeatedly zooms in on Decade's forehead of infinity until he's suited up.
  • In the end of an episode of Rutland Weekend Television, one of the announcers is reading the credits for the show. The credits in the script he's reading stop around a certain point, however, so he runs up to a television monitor showing the show so he can read the credits on the screen out loud instead. The monitor, behind the credits, shows him reading from the screen which, behind the credits, shows him reading from the screen...however, he doesn't read quickly enough. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Stephen Colbert's portrait on The Colbert Report is slowly becoming one of these, as every season he has a new portrait painted... where he's posing in front of the previous portrait.
  • In an episode of Mad Men, Sally and Glen (kids) have a Seinfeldian Conversation where she points out this is the case with the Land o' Lakes butter label, and says it scares her.
  • In one episode of the live show MTV's Most Wanted in the mid 1990s, the camera followed presenter Ray Cokes through the lobby of the MTV Europe studios, where there was a video wall showing the current program on MTV Europe. Pointing the camera straight at it, this produced a Droste Image of that video wall, which was then enhanced by the cameraman (probably Rob the Cameraman) rolling the camera left and right, the image following this with a slight delay for each iteration — giving the impression of a kind of moving tunnel.

Music

  • The last scene of The Smashing Pumpkins' "Ava Adore" video.
  • The New Pornographers use TV monitors to create this effect in their video for "Letter From An Occupant."
  • The cover of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma uses a variation: a photo of the band with a smaller photo on the wall containing a smaller photo containing a smaller photo. However, each successive photo shows the various band members occupying each other's places.
  • The album cover for Best of Friends - The Smurfs.
  • The album cover for Amber Gambler by Gorky's Zygotic Mynci.
  • The video for The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army.
  • The video feedback method referenced below is one of the special effects used in the music video for Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.

Sports

  • Every year, ESPN The Magazine has an issue called "Revenge of the Jocks" where a famous athlete takes over as editor for that issue. The front cover features the athlete in question tearing up last year's magazine, which features last year's cover athlete tearing up the previous year's magazine, etc. etc.

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • Digimon Rumble Arena (a Fighting Game spinoff from Digimon) featured one arena with a copy of the screen displayed as a colored hologram near the top of the arena, and the Droste effect varies in depth according to the camera's current position.
  • Although several Mario Kart games have tracks with monitors displaying live race footage as it happens, the size and placement of these monitors around the track generally prevent a Droste effect from developing.
  • In Portal, place two portals on opposite walls and look through the resulting "tunnel". It may be the first game to where it is also possible to walk (or fall) through them.
  • The first-person "tunnel" effect in the final levels of Super Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi were rendered using an analogous method, in which as one tile increased in size, another, smaller (and usually identical) tile appeared inside it, and so on. See it here.
  • Dwarf Fortress art includes images of "historical events", which includes artifacts, and since the object is created before art is added to it, the content maker sometimes depicts an artifact on itself.
    • Moreover, a glitch/repeatable exploit adding more art and law of large numbers make it happen. The first reported was the statue aptly named "Planepacked", among "an ungodly amount of items built into it" including 73 images of itself. Read here the description of its full glory, as well as of this and another similar exploit.

Webcomics

Web Original

 Tom: Okay, so, you guys have seen the internet video where it's David Hasselhoff, and they zoom in on his crotch and there's another David Hasselhoff and they zoom in on his crotch...

Western Animation

  • Used in The Venture Brothers when #21 and Dean are caught spying on the Murderous Moppets.
  • The Darkwing Duck episode "A Brush With Oblivion" had one of these as Honker Muddlefoot's art project.
  • In the Justice League episode "Wildcards", one shot has the Joker showing his successful takeover of TV channels by appearing at a TV screen, which shows him on television in the same shot, and so on.
  • An old Hanna-Barbera cartoon called Tomfoolery had a gag involving an animated man holding a Droste image of himself that zoomed in for several seconds. After a while, the narrator quipped "This could go on all day!"
  • One episode of Phineas and Ferb had Doofenschmirtz explaining how he was able to capture Perry the Platypus again through a series of pictures on canvas that ends up reaching his own explanation thereof. The final picture is of himself point to a picture of himself that goes on for several times (but not getting smaller) until the canvas runs out of room.
  • A Daffy Duck cartoon set in The Wild West plays with this, by showing a Wanted Poster for Nasty Canasta, but when the picture seems to move, we discover it was Canasta himself, standing in front of the poster in the exact same pose.

Real Life

  • Stand two mirrors opposite each other. Observe.
  • "Video feedback" can be triggered by pointing a video camera at any screen which is displaying the camera's own live footage. (Example)
    • Likewise, any computer video capture utility if it displays its own recording onscreen.
    • This technique was used to generate the original opening title sequence for Doctor Who.
    • As has been occasionally pointed out in broadcasts, this generally causes progressive feedback similar to audio feedback as the screen and camera operate at slightly different frame rates.
  • In mathematics, the concept of Self-similarity.
  • The concept of recursive functions in programming is pretty much that. If you don't put a stopping condition, it will repeat itself until it runs out of memory.
    • And also, forkbombs. DO NOT TRY THESE UNLESS YOU HAVE SAVED EVERYTHING IMPORTANT AS THEY WILL FREEZE THE COMPUTER UNTILL YOU REBOOT IT.
    • On an unrelated note, modern operating systems guard against the aforementioned programming oversight / malicious code. Before infinite recursion can happen, the program will be terminated by "overflowing out of stack", which is basically exhausting the (fairly small) space to note the connections between the recursing function(s). As for forkbombs, it's one of those things that modern UNIX-based OS actively try to prevent. You can't make too many forks at too short an interval, and in some cases there's a maximum number of forks you can do.
  • Coat of arms of Russia is rumored to be fractal, as illustrated here. The eagle holds a scepter tipped with an eagle, that holds a scepter tipped with an eagle...
  • On a related note, Virtual Machines. You can run a "virtualized" operating system inside that very same operating system, recursively ad infinitum in theory, hardware resources notwithstanding.[1] This is getting more and more common these days to prevent the headache of having to craft policies for many, many users that share single administrative space. Having an OS emulating the very same OS also cuts down the hassle of having to provide different updates.

Notes

  1. And some virtual machines prohibit virtualizing themselves.
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