Pepper's ghost is an illusion technique used in the theatre, amusement parks, museums, television, and concerts. It is named after the English scientist John Henry Pepper (1821–1900) who popularized the effect in a demonstration in 1862. Examples of the illusion are the Girl-to-Gorilla trick found in old carnival sideshows and the appearance of "Ghosts" at the Haunted Mansion and the "Blue Fairy" in Pinocchio's Daring Journey, both at the Disneyland park in California. Teleprompters are a modern implementation of Pepper's ghost. The technique was used by Digital Domain for the appearance of Tupac Shakur onstage with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg at the 2012 Coachella Music and Arts Festival and Michael Jackson at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards.
The essential device employed to stage the illusion is an optical beam splitter operated in reverse to combine two images towards the audience's point of view. The beam splitter element is typically a large, flat sheet of ordinary glass. The image of one scene is reflected from the glass surface towards the viewers, and the image of a second scene is transmitted through the glass. The stage lighting is controlled to selectively illuminate the scenes, but not the glass itself, which is invisible to observers. The combined image is genuine and not an illusion; the illusion consists of the audience not detecting the glass.
An audience views a stage or room with various objects in it. On command, ghostly objects appear to fade in or out of existence in the room, or objects in the room transform into different objects.
The basic trick involves a stage that is specially arranged into two rooms, one that people can see into or the stage as a whole, and a second that is hidden to the side, the "blue room". A plate of glass (or Plexiglas or plastic film) is placed somewhere in the main room at an angle that reflects the view of the blue room towards the audience. Generally this is arranged with the blue room to one side of the stage, and the plate on the stage rotated around its vertical axis at 45 degrees. Care must be taken to make the glass as invisible as possible, normally hiding the lower edge in patterning on the floor and ensuring lights do not reflect off it.
When the lights are bright in the main room and dark in the blue room, the reflected image cannot be seen. When the lighting in the blue room is increased, often with the main room lights dimming to make the effect more pronounced, the reflection becomes visible and the objects within the blue/hidden room seem to appear, from thin air, in the space visible to the audience. A common variation uses two blue/hidden rooms -- (one behind the glass in the main room, and one to the side) -- the contents of which can be switched between 'visible' and 'invisible' states by manipulating the lighting therein.
The hidden room may be an identical mirror-image of the main room, so that its reflected image exactly matches the layout of the main room; this approach is useful in making objects seem to appear or disappear. This illusion can also be used to make an object, or person -- reflected in, say, a mirror -- appear to morph into another (or vice versa). This is the principle behind the Girl-to-Gorilla trick found in old carnival sideshows. Another variation: the hidden room may itself be painted black, with only light-colored objects in it. In this case, when light is cast on the room, only the light objects strongly reflect that light, and therefore appear as ghostly, translucent images on the (invisible) pane of glass in the room visible to the audience. This can be used to make objects appear to float in space.
Giambattista della Porta
Giambattista della Porta was a 16th-century Neapolitan scientist and scholar who is credited with a number of scientific innovations (including sometimes, erroneously, the camera obscura, first described in detail by Leonardo da Vinci). His 1584 work Magia Naturalis (Natural Magic) includes a description of an illusion, titled "How we may see in a Chamber things that are not" that is the first known description of the Pepper's ghost effect.
Porta's description, from the 1658 English language translation, is as follows.
Let there be a chamber wherein no other light comes, unless by the door or window where the spectator looks in. Let the whole window or part of it be of glass, as we use to do to keep out the cold. But let one part be polished, that there may be a Looking-glass on bothe sides, whence the spectator must look in. For the rest do nothing. Let pictures be set over against this window, marble statues and suchlike. For what is without will seem to be within, and what is behind the spectator's back, he will think to be in the middle of the house, as far from the glass inward, as they stand from it outwardly, and clearly and certainly, that he will think he sees nothing but truth. But lest the skill should be known, let the part be made so where the ornament is, that the spectator may not see it, as above his head, that a pavement may come between above his head. And if an ingenious man do this, it is impossible that he should suppose that he is deceived.
Henri Robin and Pierre Séguin
French illusionist Henri Robin (Henrik Joseph Donckel) claimed to have had the idea for the illusion in 1845 and had a first satisfactory result in 1847. He presented it as "Fantasmagorie vivante" (living phantasmagoria) in theatres in Lyon and Saint-Etienne, but to his astonishment it didn't sort much effect. He found the illusion lacking and worked on a more convincing variation that he showed with much more success in Venice, Rome, Munich, Vienna and Brussels, but as he later admitted "since these experiences caused me great embarrassment, I found myself forced to put them aside for a while".
The process was patented in 1852 by painter Pierre Séguin, who had worked for Henri Robin.
John Pepper and Henry Dircks
The Royal Polytechnic Institute London was a permanent science-related institution, first opened in 1838. With a degree in chemistry, John Henry Pepper joined the institution as a lecturer in 1848. The Polytechnic awarded him the title of Professor. In 1854, he became the director and sole lessee of the Royal Polytechnic.
In 1862, inventor Henry Dircks developed the Dircksian Phantasmagoria, his version of the long-established phantasmagoria performances. This technique was used to make a ghost appear on-stage. He tried unsuccessfully to sell his idea to theatres. It required that theaters be completely rebuilt to support the effect, which they found too costly to consider. Later in the year, Dircks set up a booth at the Royal Polytechnic, where it was seen by John Pepper.
Pepper realized that the method could be modified to make it easy to incorporate into existing theatres. Dircks's illusion used a reflecting glass perpendicular to the theater floor, reflecting actors directly underneath the audience, whereas Pepper tilted the glass to a 45-degree angle and placed actors lying on their sides in a pit in front of the audience. Pepper first showed the effect during a scene of Charles Dickens's The Haunted Man, to great success. Pepper's implementation of the effect tied his name to it permanently. Dircks eventually signed over to Pepper all financial rights in their joint patent. Though Pepper tried many times to give credit to Dircks, the title "Pepper's ghost" endured.
The relationship between Dircks and Pepper was summarised in an 1863 article from Spectator:
This admirable ghost is the offspring of two fathers, of a learned member of the Society of Civil Engineers, Henry Dircks, Esq., and of Professor Pepper, of the Polytechnic. To Mr. Dircks belongs the honour of having invented him, or as the disciples of Hegel would express it, evolved him from out of the depths of his own consciousness; and Professor Pepper has the merit of having improved him considerably, fitting him for the intercourse of mundane society, and even educating him for the stage.
The illusion is widely used for entertainment and publicity purposes (often wrongly described as "holographic"). Such setups can involve custom projection media server software and specialized stretched films. The installation may be a site-specific one-off, or a use of a commercial system such as the Cheoptics360 or Musion Eyeliner. Products have been designed using a clear plastic pyramid and a smartphone screen to generate the illusion of a 3D object.
The world's largest implementation of this illusion can be found at The Haunted Mansion and Phantom Manor attractions at several Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. There, a 90-foot (27 m)-long scene features multiple Pepper's ghost effects, brought together in one scene. Guests travel along an elevated mezzanine, looking through a 30-foot (9.1 m)-tall pane of glass into an empty ballroom. Animatronic ghosts move in hidden black rooms beneath and above the mezzanine. A more advanced variation of the Pepper's Ghost effect is also used at The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
The walk-through attraction Turbidite Manor in Nashville, Tennessee, employs variations of the classic technique, enabling guests to see various spirits that also interact with the physical environment, viewable at a much closer proximity. The House at Haunted Hill, a Halloween attraction in Woodland Hills, California, employs a similar variation in its front window to display characters from its storyline.
An example that combines the Pepper's ghost effect with a live actor and film projection can be seen in the Mystery Lodge exhibit at the Knott's Berry Farm theme park in Buena Park, California, and the Ghosts of the Library exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, as well as the depiction of Maori legends called A Millennium Ago at the Museum of Wellington City & Sea in New Zealand.
The Hogwarts Express attraction at Universal Studios Florida uses the Pepper's ghost effect, such that guests entering "Platform 9 3⁄4" seem to disappear into a brick wall when viewed from those further behind in the queue.
Museums increasingly use Pepper's ghost exhibits to create attractions that appeal to visitors. In the mid-1970s James Gardener designed the Changing Office installation in the London Science Museum, consisting of a 1970s-style office that transforms into an 1870s-style office as the audience watches. It was designed and built by Will Wilson and Simon Beer of Integrated Circles. Another particularly intricate Pepper's ghost display is the Eight Stage Ghost built for the British Telecom Showcase Exhibition in London in 1978. This display follows the history of electronics in a number of discrete transitions.
More modern examples of Pepper's ghost effects can be found in various museums in the United Kingdom and Europe. Examples of these in the United Kingdom are the ghost of Annie McLeod at the New Lanark World Heritage Site, the ghost of John McEnroe at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, which reopened in new premises in 2006, and one of Sir Alex Ferguson, which opened at the Manchester United Museum in 2007. Other examples include the ghost of Sarah (who picks up a candle and walks through the wall) and also the ghost of the Eighth Duke at Blenheim Palace.
In October 2008 a life-sized Pepper's ghost of Shane Warne was opened at the National Sports Museum in Melbourne, Australia. The effect is also used at the Dickens World attraction at Chatham Maritime, Kent, United Kingdom. Both the York Dungeon and the Edinburgh Dungeon use the effect in the context of their 'Ghosts' shows.
Another example can be found at Our Planet Centre in Castries, St Lucia, which opened in May 2011, where a life-size Prince Charles and Governor general of the island appear on stage talking about climate change.
The South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town uses elaborate Pepper's ghost video technology in their permanent exhibit. The Artist Group PXNG.LI has exhibited the evolutionary processes in a Pepper's ghost box at the Natural Science Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Television, film, and video
In the episode of The Magic School Bus that deals with light, "Gets a Bright Idea", Arnold's mischievous cousin Janet uses a Pepper's ghost illusion to convince the class a theater is haunted. It ends up helping the class learn more about how light and reflections behave.
On 1 June 2013, ITV broadcast Les Dawson: An Audience With That Never Was. The programme featured a Pepper's ghost projection of Les Dawson, presenting content for a 1993 edition of An Audience with... to be hosted by Dawson but unused due to his death two weeks before recording.
In CBS's The Mentalist episode "Red Scare" (Season 2, episode 5, 2009), Patrick Jane realises that Pepper's ghost was used in an attempt to scare one of the characters, an architect, from an old house he was developing.
In CTV's The Listener episode "Smoke and Mirrors" (Season 5, episode 4, 2014), the team realises that Pepper's ghost was used by a murderer to give himself an alibi, and is then used by the team to trick the murderer into revealing his guilt.
An illusion based on Pepper's ghost involving projected images has been featured at music concerts (often erroneously marketed as "holographic").
At the 2006 Grammy Awards, the Pepper's ghost technique was used to project Madonna with the virtual members of the band Gorillaz onto the stage in a "live" performance. This type of system consists of a projector (usually DLP) or LED screen, with a resolution of 1280×1024 or higher and brightness of at least 5,000 lumens, a high-definition video player, a stretched film between the audience and the acting area, a 3D set/drawing that encloses three sides, plus lighting, audio, and show control.
During Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's performance at the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, a projection of deceased rapper Tupac Shakur appeared and performed "Hail Mary" and "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted". The use of this approach was repeated in 2013 at west coast Rock the Bells dates, featuring projections of Eazy-E and Ol' Dirty Bastard.
On 18 May 2014, during the Billboard Music Awards, an illusion of deceased pop star Michael Jackson, other dancers, and the entire stage set was projected onto the stage for a performance of the song "Slave to the Rhythm" from the posthumous Xscape album.
On September 21, 2017, the Frank Zappa estate announced plans to conduct a reunion tour with the Mothers of Invention that would make use of Pepper's ghosts of Frank Zappa and the settings from his studio albums. Initially scheduled to run through 2018, the tour was later pushed back to 2019.
NChant 3D telecast, live, a 55-minute speech by Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, to 53 locations across Gujarat on 10 December 2012 during the assembly elections. In April 2014, they projected Narendra Modi again at 88 locations across India.
- Camera lucida
- Head-up display
- Optical illusion
- Schüfftan process
- Reflector sight
- Magic lantern
- Front projection effect
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