Anti-Science

Monster Pig?

I’m catching up on all the news that has spread around the Internet in the past week, and this morning I read an article about the so-called “monster pig” that was just killed by an 11-year old kid in Alabama. The first thing that catches my attention is the accompanying photo:

That photo is a classic example of a forced perspective. Forced perspective is a fancy phrase for a fairly easy-to-do camera trick that makes things look bigger than they are. If you see two basketballs in a photo, one of which is twice as large as the other, your brain will assume either that the objects really are different sizes, or the larger ball is actually closer to the camera, since size is one way of judging distance. This can be confirmed by looking at other things in the photo, seeing what overlaps what, the shading on the balls, and how much ground is between the two. Your brain processes all that pretty quickly, without you even knowing it. To create a situation with a forced perspective, all you have to do is remove all those other hints that let a brain know that an object is closer to the camera than another object, and wham — you’re left with the impression that the two objects are the same distance from the camera but are actually different sizes.

There are lots of examples of this technique. Like, have you ever held your hand in front of your eye and “squished” the heads of passers by like on the Kids in the Hall? Or, did you ever pose for a funny photo where it looks like you’re holding up the leaning tower of Pisa? Or, did you see the Lord of the Rings? A lot of shots between little hobbits and tall wizards were set up using forced perspective, with Gandalf hanging out much closer to the camera. It’s amazingly easy to fool the brain sometimes.

So the photo above appears to be a fairly simple forced perspective, with the kid hanging out far behind the pig. Doubtless it’s a big pig, but I was pretty skeptical that it was the reported 9 feet 4 inches. I went to monsterpig.com, the “official” web site, and I’ll be damned if every other photo on the site wasn’t also a forced perspective.

In this one, you can see how easy it would be for the two guys to just stand a good six-or-so feet further away from the camera. Had they had a hand on the animal, they could have easily proven that they were on the up-and-up. Here’s another:

Again, this shot is set up exactly as the first. Notice how no one is touching the hog. This is probably the most blatant forced perspective.

I can’t figure out who set up the “official site” from the copy on it (or from the WHOIS info), but there’s a link to a movie about the last gigantic hog to be killed around those parts. Uh-huh.

I was clicking around some more on the site before I hit “post” and just saw that these criticisms have reached the webmaster already though a woman he claims works at stinkyjournalism.org (the site isn’t working for me). The response to the criticism of the photographs (which seems to come from the father, which is odd because other copy on the site indicates it is written by someone outside the family) is severely lacking (like that they used two different cameras, which makes no difference), making it all the more obvious that this is a total set-up that the mainstream media fell for hook, line, and sinker. Sad.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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23 Comments

  1. The first image you looked almost looks like it could be genuine, but the other two are very, very obvious forced perspectives.

    In the second one, the roof the pig is hanging from is a dead giveaway. The set up forced the use of a flash to make the pig visible, which lit up the pig a lot brighter than the people (since the former was closer to the camera). The people also cast a shadow toward the camera, while the pig is forward-lit by the flash. The shadow also shows that there's a clear distance between the people and the pig.

    I'd think that if I shot a 9 foot pig, the first thing I'd do is find a tape measure to prove it. ;) Or a scale to weigh it, for that matter.

  2. For me, the real tip-off was the focus of the camera. If two objects are at the same distance, they'd be just as well focused. With a decent auto-focusing camera (which is standard fare these days), if all you care about is at the same distance, it should all be almost perfectly focused.

    Here, that's not the case. Both the pig looks blurry and the people look blurry, so they're likely both out of focus (or it's a pretty crappy camera). Most likely, the camera was focused between the two distances so that neither would be in focus and contrasting with the other and be a bit more subtle. But, if you're in the know, both being out of focus is still enough of a tip-off.

  3. Different photos cite different sizes for the pig as well. I'm pretty sure the whole thing is a hoax. And I saw the stinkyjournalism article while the site was still up. It's a pretty detailed breakdown of how photos are faked (covering much of what you did, just in a lot more detail and with examples).

  4. There seems to be a clear indication of "photoshop hijinks" in the images posted on the response page (to stinkyjournalism). I've been unable to view stinkyjournalism's criticisms, so forgive me if I'm being redundant, but in comparing the knot on the tree (to the boy's right in the 'kneeling' picture, and just behind in the 'seated' picture), the bottom half of the knot miraculously disappears in the 'seated' version. The knot or malformation has a slight S curve to it, and you can match up the indentations and knobs from image to the other, but the bottom half of that slight S curve was clearly shopped out, for what reason it is unclear, but a guess would be that they were shopping in a reduced version of the boy to enhance the illusion.

  5. The focus is what clued me in at first, as well.

    @Echobucket: Good call. Both photos are exactly the same, except for the fact that the gun is now (as well as poorly compressed and blurry) resting on the back of the humongous hog.

  6. The most widely shown pic is interesting because not only is the kid rather obviously standing well back of the pig, he's posed to look as if he's resting on it. This means that it cannot be an innocent mistake, but instead a deliberate fraud.

    And isn't it interesting when these "record" animals always seem to not get weighed or measured, and then they get buried or cut up or otherwise go missing. This is common with cryptoid specimens. It should make even the gullible suspicious.

    But it doesn't.

  7. Good comments all around, particularly the thoughts on Photoshop. I'm surprised Snopes is so far behind on declaring this one thoroughly faked . . . hopefully they'll update the page soon.

    And yes, anthrosci, sadly this is very obviously a deliberate scam. I'm guessing that it began as a joke that grew out of control or else it was a deliberate ploy to promote the upcoming movie.

  8. The picture of the kid with his hand resting on the skull is kinda telling. The "monsterpig" skull is only about 1.5 times taller the skull from a 250 lb pig on the table next to it. Cube that out for a volume ratio of 3.375 times greater than the 250 lb pig, and the "monsterpig" should weigh in at around 850 lbs. That's a big pig, to be sure, but a far cry less than what they're claiming.

  9. . I’m guessing that it began as a joke that grew out of control or else it was a deliberate ploy to promote the upcoming movie.

    The likelihood is that the kid, or somebody, shot a very large pig (and it is very large) and then wanted a piece of the publicity action that "Hogzilla" and its shooters got. They even had a special on one of the cable channels about it which is apparently being shown regularly. Many people will go to far greater lengths to get on TV.

  10. It was funny when Nat. Geo. exposed Hogzilla to be smaller than was originally reported. All the guys involved pointed to each other over who made the exaggeration. No one wanted to take the blame!

    I'm betting the same thing will happen with Monster Pig as well!

  11. The clincher for me that this is a hoax is the photo of the "monster hog" being lifted by the tractor. If that boar really is as large as claimed, 9' 4" snout to tail base, then the man driving the tractor would have to be, what, 15' – 20' tall?, based on the perspective.

  12. Pat and I looked at the second instance that appeared in our local paper (which is your first photo), grinned, and talked about different ways to fake it with and without Photoshop. The 11-yr-old is still out of proportion for the size of the animal. Sigh.

  13. And just when you thought it couldn't get any weirder, here's THIS report from the AJC saying that Monster Pig wasn't so much wild as raised to his prodigious size in a pen on a farm.

    While the details on his size are still scant at best, it's just amusing that the hunter's family is claiming they didn't know he wasn't 'feral' when they shot him. These people are seeming less and less reliable by the moment.

  14. Dad and son, video interview,http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,277097,00.html say nothing doctored, pics are real?, untouched, can we have some evidence please one way or the other. This controversy leaves me wondering about both sides. I have seen no evidence for either side. Rebecca, you were so inspired by the pics but no evidence to support your conclusions other than the pics.. Please, I am loosing my “faith”
    skeptical Steve

  15. What evidence are we supposed to have here?

    Ok, who's got the skeptical time machine so we can go back to when the pictures were taken and find out for sure!

    Seriously, this is just like Nessie or Bigfoot or crop circles. It's simply not possible to 100% prove the falsehood of every single claim. Luckily, we don't have to. After all, we're not making the claim. These guys are the ones saying they found a nine foot-long wild boar. Given that wild boars do not typically grow to nine feet, they're the ones who have to prove it.

    In this case, particularly, it would be really easy to make the fake photos. Forced perspective is a very common photographic technique. Given that the corpse seems to have mysteriously disappeared, and the easily-fakable photos are all evidence we have, I'd call that weak tea for proving the existence of Pig of Unusual Size.

    PoUSes? Personally, I don't think they exist.

  16. Ok, so i have gotten a couple perspectives from the farmers out by where i live, and none of them say, even a feral boar, can grow to over six feet long.
    After reviewing the pictures, even echobucket’s picture, i found a couple of other things that give this hoax away. 1) Look at echobucket’s picture and notice the weapon used to kill the boar, its a high gage double barrel, with a non-shoulder butt. The weapon that the kid is holding in the first picture and ‘sappo-sadly’ did the boar in with is probably, which in my opionion, looks like a .38. And 2) given the ‘size’ of the boar and the anatomy, both of those weapons would not penetrate good far enough to cause any damage to the boars internal organs. So the only kill shot, like in bear hunting is to wait till its charging to get a clean shot of the head. What do we see in the front picture with the photoshopped weapon on the boars back, no entry or damage to his face.

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