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The Rediscovery of Holograms
by Joe Shepter

“We decided to switch roles between atoms and bits,” PJ Pereira explains. “In most lectures you see a professor made of atoms projecting bits on a wall. But we decided to do it the other way: make a digital representation of him, and instead of having a PowerPoint presentation, have real people holding real props on the stage.”

The result was a unique piece of theater. Negroponte was always a hologram. Objects like his “slides” were often posters held up by stagehands. But the illusion was so good that audience members found it extraordinarily difficult to remember that Negroponte was not really there. To them, he looked all too real, until he would disappear in a puff of smoke.

“It messes with your mind in a way that's hard to describe,” says Pereira. “When you’re watching, you know he’s a projection, and every time something strange happened, every time he picked up a 3-D element, you’d realize you’d forgotten about [the illusion] and be surprised.”

This mingling of digital and reality is not the point of the more public uses of holograms. On a street or against a building, you want shock and awe. No project demonstrates this better than Nike’s M8 NYC Flight Event, which helped launch a new shoe for Carmelo Anthony. Taking place between two piers on the Hudson River in October 2011, it was one of the largest and most impressive holographic shows to date.

The idea was conceived by Wieden+Kennedy's New York office and executed by Philadelphia’s Klip Collective as a secret element of an elaborate party; 2,500 guests showed up believing they were attending a traditional launch event. They enjoyed food, drinks and an outdoor concert. What they didn’t know was that floating on the river near the pier was a water misting system that could create a massive holographic screen.

The surprise began when Klip’s creative director Ricardo Rivera leaned into his microphone and said, “Cue the helicopter.”

Out of the air came a real helicopter carrying a real retired Navy Seal who fast-roped down and dropped into the Hudson. The moment he hit the water, an enormous holographic Carmelo Anthony appeared. He began dribbling, dashing and dunking right on the river. Much of the trick involved highly realistic splashes that made every footfall seem explosive.

Wieden+Kennedy and Klip Collective teamed up to create this three-story holographic
projection of Carmelo Anthony on the Hudson River.

“I don't think we set out to do a hologram or a projection,” says Wieden+Kennedy creative director Brandon Mugar. “We wanted to showcase an attribute of Melo’s game in a way that made sense. We found a way that people could feel the power of his game, and present it in a huge way.”

So what's next? Real Star Wars-style projected holograms? Surprisingly enough, maybe. Recently, the MIT Media Lab released a grainy, fifteen-frame-per-second video of a true projected hologram of a graduate student playing Princess Leia. A team from the University of Arizona created a similar holographic projection and published a paper about it in Nature in November 2010.

Chances are, advertising agencies will someday be sending 3-D projected holograms dancing around Times Square. Or we could have holographic friends to keep us company. Or even holographic, drooling, growling Rottweilers to guard our houses (OK, that’s still a ways away). In the meantime, there are plenty of good holographic shows to enjoy—and until you see one, you won’t believe how cool they can be. CA Shepter
Joe Shepter is a freelance writer specializing in travel and interactive media. He has worked with Adobe, Oracle, Whirlpool and Coca-Cola, among others.