Lip Synchronous Talking Holographic Portraits

By Diamond, Mark | American Cinematographer, June 1984 | Go to article overview

Lip Synchronous Talking Holographic Portraits


Diamond, Mark, American Cinematographer


Ever since the application of holography to human portraiture the possibility of producing "talking heads" has been discussed. A variety of methodologies that anticipated this effect have existed for some time.

One scheme for producing this effect made popular by audio-visual producers and arcade amusement makers has been the utilization of a featureless wig head (typically styrofoam) on to which is projected a tightly masked motion picture image of a human face talking. When the image of the talking face is seen projected on the contoured wig head along with hearing the mag striped or optical encoded sound track of the person's voice, a very convincing illusion takes place at a distance.

Besides trade show applications, this technique was popularized in an arcade machine called "Morgana." After inserting 25 cents, the image of "Morgana", a fortune telling gypsy, would appear, tell your fortune, and eat your quarters. The illusion has more impact when viewed at a distance of at least six feet away. This is mainly because when viewed at closer distances, the brain is able to discern that no differential perspectives are being presented it from both eyes. In other words the image of the tape has only monocular cues and therefore it doesn't look quite three-dimensional.

In the movie Star Wars an attempt was made to visually suggest the appearance of a talking, projected image hologram. In the scene, what appears to be a holographic image of Princess Leah being projected into the room by R2D2, has been created using conventional optical and cinematic effects. In spite of the fact that holography is not actually used in the creation of that scene the concept of talking holographic images is communicated to the audience consciousness as a distinct possibility in the future, and not in a galaxy far, far away, as we shall see.

Perhaps the first appearance of what appeared to be a talking integral hologram, was that of Michael York in the film Lagan's Run. In that situation the motion picture camera provided the fix angle of view in a scene where a hologram of York is being interrogated by a computer. The hologram is heard to say, "There is no sanctuary." In that case a voice-over was utilized and everything looks all right with the exception of a tiny amount of time smearing that appears on the lips. Time smearing is an optical aberration that sometimes occurs in integral holograms. This phenomena can be anticipated and rectified out of the image. It is due to the relationship between the frame rate of the cine camera (taking the original footage for the holographic transfer) and the relative movements in time of the subjects pictured as well as the spacing of the holograms made from the original cine.

While the York hologram had the advantage of not having to be synched while a viewer matches it (voice-over), the holograms needed to be viewable in sync in real time (live).

In the early 1970s a methodology was developed for producing 3-D holograms from motion picture footage. These holograms were referred to as integrals or holographic stereograms (see figs. 1 & 2). The images revealed in these holograms were not only three-dimensional but also allowed the viewing of a motion picture sequence (typically 15-45 seconds of action), stereoscopically without glasses and without any moving parts! This led holographer Will Walter, working at Polaroid research at that time, to refer to them as "solid state movies." The possibilities in this format also include the transfer of time lapse or slow motion footage as well.

In 1975 Holografix Incorporated was formed to research and apply the art and science of holography to the "real" world outside the laser laboratory. Our company produces holographic displays in a variety of formats including the moving integral type (referred to above). Since then my associates and I have had the pleasure of working on some outstanding projects within this medium.

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