Pepper’s Ghost Effect

watch video below

The Pepper’s Ghost effect simulates a ghostly apparition by using an optical illusion. This illusion was introduced in mid 1800′s and the name Pepper’s Ghost was named after John Pepper’s production of Charles Dickens’ “The Haunted Man” which used the effect. Although this is an old illusion, you can still see this in use today at the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland and Disneyworld. Next time you are riding the Haunted Mansion, think of Pepper’s Ghost as you watch the ballroom dancing ghosts. Originally, this effect was also used for the three apparitions that would follow you home, but it was recently replaced with a digital effect. To get a better understanding of how the effect works, watch the video below.

Examples of Pepper’s Ghost

In the video below, a experiment was setup demonstrating the Pepper’s Ghost effect. What’s great about this video, is that it gives you some ideas of setting up your haunt. They tell a story to the visitors about hauntings that have taken place. This plants the seed in the mind of the visitors which will spark a nerve of fear when they do see it. When the illusion is presented, one of the girls freaks out. This goes to show that a great story and a great effect can lead to some scary results.

The video below is one of my favorite Pepper’s Ghost effects. According to the owner of the video, he has been setting this up for a few years and perfecting each year. A video was recorded of someone playing the piano. A projector was used to project the image on a white board out of site of the window. A glass was placed at an angle in front of the window, which reflected the image from the white board.

Setup Options

This effect can be very difficult to setup. It may require many adjustments before you get it just right. Take your time and be patient. The end result will be spectacular.

To start, you need to determine what you will be turning into a ghostly object or figure. You can use a live person/object, a recorded video on TV, or a recorded video projected onto a material. The setup will be different for each. The easiest and cheapest setup will be of a live person or object. If you are using a video, it may be more difficult as you may need to record your subject at a specific angle to get the illusion just right, and you may have trouble with the way the video is projected onto another material.

Projection material

  • Glass
  • Plexiglass
  • Plastic Wrap
  • Holographic Screens

You have three options for materials. Each has it’s pros and cons. With any material though, size will matter. If any seams are present because you are using multiple sheets, it will ruin the effect. The material should cover as much as the view-able area as possible. You will need to get the thinnest material possible as well. Thicker materials can cause a double reflection making the hologram blurry.

To get the best illusion, you should use glass. It provides the strongest and most realistic hologram. It is also the easiest to clean. The two downsides to glass is the cost and safety factor. A large sheet of glass can cost hundreds of dollars. Safety of course should be your top priority. Consider that scared people may run directly into the glass becuase they can’t see it.

Plexiglass is cheaper and safer alternative. You can pick up a large sheet for less $100. These are usually large enough to place behind a window and create a great effect. The other great benefit is safety. It won’t shatter easily like glass will. The important factor when selecting plexiglass is the firmness of the sheet. A flimsy sheet can distort your hologram, scratch easily, be difficult to setup and possibly ruin the effect.

I have yet to try plastic wrap. The same stuff you use to seal plastic containers of food. This of course would be by far the cheapest option. The biggest problem I can foresee is multiple seams breaking up the image and obvious to see.

The most expensive option, but more effective than glass, is holographic screens. They can be around $10,000 for a single sheet. These are very thin films specifically made for this effect. Because it is very thin, it reduces any double reflection which can blur the image. If you know of a cheaper transparent projection screen or film, please leave your comments below.

Black Background

To get the best results of a live object hologram, use a black background behind the subject. When other objects or walls can reflect light, it will ruin the illusion. Using a black background behind will help eliminate any unwanted objects or walls showing up in the hologram.

Live Person/Object Setup

In this diagram, the scene is the lighted area with the table. This is what the visitors will see and where you want to draw the focus to. The ghost is not lit up and therefore will not appear in the scene. Notice that the glass, indicated as the green box, is angled at 45 degrees to the ghost and the scene. The red square is the viewing port, so to speak. This may be a window or door frame in your application.

When light is shown upon the ghost, the reflection will appear in the glass. This gives the appearance of a transparent ghost in the scene. The ghost can move in and out of the light to produce an effect that makes the ghost appear subtly out of now where. To avoid any unwanted artifacts located near the ghost, a flat black material should be used around it. This way, only the wanted object will be displayed in the reflection.

As you can see in this diagram, the ghost is being cut off. Although this is a birds-eye view, it is important to note that the use of a large glass may be required in some cases. Typically, you will want a glass large enough to cover the entire scene. If anyone can see the edges of the glass or the ghost is cut off, then the illusion is ruined.

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Brandon Orth

Brandon Orth

Brandon is a web developer with knowledge in HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL, Javascript, and jQuery and has been developing since 2005. He is recently married with one kid, a Chihuahua, name Cisco (he was adopted with that name). Brandon enjoys playing golf, baseball, programming, science, technology, movies, music, and much more. Always make a side dish without onions and cilantro; he's allergic. Isn't that weird?
Brandon Orth

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