Pepper's Ghost Presentation by Catherine Cox

Posted on 11 November, 2015 at 4:10 PM

I wanted to experiment with the Pepper's Ghost technique. I had organised to do a presentation for the Brisbane Movie Makers Club and this encouraged me to do it.

On Thursday, 3rd November I did a short show and tell presentation on Pepper’s Ghost effect. The Pepper’s Ghost effect is a hologram looking effect that has been used a little in television and movies, but more often it is used in museums, concerts and amusement parks. Pepper’s Ghost was first referenced in the 16th century by the Neapolitan scientist, Giambattista della Porta in his 1584 work, Magia Naturalis with a title, “How we may see in a Chamber things that are not”. However, it was not until 1862 that the inventor, Henry Dirkson developed the Dirkson Phantasmogoria, for the purpose of making ghosts appear on the stage. John Henry Pepper improved Dirkson’s design and popularised the technique in theatre.

Pepper’s Ghost works by projecting an image onto a reflective surface such as a pane of glass or plastic film which is at 45 degrees to the audience so that the audience cannot see the reflective surface, but can see objects and characters behind it. In a theatre environment, the ‘ghost’ is in a room off to the side of the stage, and the room gets lit up when the ‘ghost’ appears on stage. However, in modern times the image is projected from a projector or screen. Ideally, the reflective surface will be half mirrored on one side and non-reflective on the other as normal glass will give off a double reflection (one from each surface).

Great examples of the Pepper’s Ghost in concert include the deceased rapper, Tupac, appearing on stage with Snoop Dogg and the virtual, digitally created, band Gorillaz, appearing on stage for a ‘live’ performance with Madonna. There are many examples of Pepper’s ghost exhibits in museums. At the National Sport’s Museum in Melbourne, there is a life size Pepper’s ghost of Shane Warne. In Wellington is an excellent exhibit at the Sea and City Museum. This exhibit was the first one I had seen. I was so fascinated by it, I was determined to make my own.

I was asked at our last club meeting how Pepper’s Ghost can be used in the creation of movies.  Pepper’s Ghost is not a technique used much in films. Pepper’s Ghost as it is used today, makes use of video to create a new experience in a non-screen environment. With carefully created video footage, well thought out physical environment and the right lighting, we can bring life to places in a way that can engage and surprise people. In effect, with Pepper’s Ghost, we can bring our videoed characters to life.

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