Digital Worlds in the Real World: Augmenting Reality with a 21st Century Take on Pepper’s Ghost

In Introducing Augmented Reality – Blending Real and Digital Worlds, I introduced the idea of augmented reality in which digital graphical objects are overlaid on video images of real world scenes, to give the appearance of digital objects inhabiting the real world. By overlaying the digital objects on top of ‘tracked’ real world objects, it is possible for a human puppeteer to enter the digital realm and both control and interact with digital animations. But now consider the case of digital characters entering the “real world” and joining human actors on a physical stage, rather than the actors having to move behind the video screen?

If you even been to a science discovery center, it’s quite likely that you’ll have seen an exhibit based around a piece of theatrical trickery known as Pepper’s Ghost.

The effect is used to make a ghostly apparition appear and disappear from a scene – see if you can find out how the effect works…

A recent twist to the illusion allows digitally projected 3D animations to come to life on stage:

The same trick can be used to create a feeling of telepresence, for example in the case of large business presentations:

Recalling the theatrical origins of the technique, this New York Times “presentation’ describes a recent theatrical performance that uses the same effect: First Person Ghost Lighting

One company that is championing the ‘digital Pepper’s ghost” approach is the UK based Musion Systems Ltd (Musion Systems blog). The following video sequence shows how they create the illusion with their Musion Eyeliner system.

To what extent does this system represent something ‘new’ and to what extent is it just an extension of Victorian theatrical stagecraft?

For what sorts of game might this technique provide a compelling user interface? Are there any game genres where it is unlikely to be effective? Why?

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1 Response to “Digital Worlds in the Real World: Augmenting Reality with a 21st Century Take on Pepper’s Ghost”


  1. 1 David Davies October 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    The website http://www.musion.co.uk/ on one of its pages describes their system as using “virtual holography” with the Pepper’s Ghost effect displayed via Eyeliner Foil. The reference to “virtual” holography is dropped on other Musion sites where they refer simply to “holography”. I do not know what virtual holography might be. The Eyeliner Foil is used in place of the sheet of glass used for Pepper’s Ghost. The foil may be mylar material, since this is mentioned on other sites dealiong with holograms. They refer to using a High Definition projector with the Eyeliner Foil. It is not clear where the hologram is reconstructed: in the projector or in the Foil.


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