by Jeff Allen

The technology of the 1990s makes it easy for operators to get their hands on high-tech,
3-D experiences that wow park guests.

Operators find that using holograms to theme or promote attractions can add a new dimension to a park’s bottom line.


The ability to create and then share dreams on a conscious level is rapidly approaching with the science of holography. Holographic images have become more than three-dimensional images that appear to float in space or within a two-dimensional surface. Holograms can take us to unexplored regions of our unconscious minds.

Recently at the South Florida Expo in West Palm Beach, Interactive Entertainment & Education of Los Angeles, a company that produces traveling high-tech shows, displayed a holographic image of a microscope. Not only did the microscope appear lifelike, an image of a computer chip appeared in its viewfinder. Countless visitors approached the microscope, looked into it, and some actually tried to focus it. However, their hand passed right through it. This is an amazing example of the technology of holography.

More than 10 million people were introduced to holography when National Geographic featured a hologram of an eagle on a 1984 cover. Feedback from impressed readers led to one of the largest increases in advertising and circulation in magazine history. A reader with only one functioning eye wrote, “This was the first time I have been able to see three dimensions.”

Today, holograms appear on credit cards, stamps, baseball cards, magazine covers, driver’s licenses, and even Superbowl tickets. Use of holographic optical elements has expanded to manufacturing, including heads-up displays and supermarket check-out scanners.

It has been said, “Tell a person, they’ll forget. Show a person, they’ll remember. Involve a person, they’ll understand.” In a time when amusement parks are becoming more experience-oriented, holography is a seemingly perfect medium to involve individuals through its ability to go beyond visual reality and transcend language barriers. A hologram can create a multidimensional static or moving image, giving viewers a complete visual experience. Including holograms and holographic technology in rides and attractions offers access to a medium that will fascinate park guests visit after visit.

Images can be used alone or incorporated into different props, dioramas, and landscape designs. A fish hologram could be placed into an aquarium, submarine window, or underwater city. A microscope could be used in a classroom or a mad scientist’s lab. A hologram of a person could be a futuristic wall portrait or a space traveler in suspended animation. Large-format holograms could be used in theme environments or for illusions of ghostly images floating in space through a dark ride.

There are four different methods of creation holograms: continuous-wave laser, used to record static objects and scenes; pulsed laser, used to take holograms of both animate and inanimate objects; multiplex, used to convert film, video, or computer animation into static or moving holograms; and computer, used to convert digital data into holograms.

Holographic images are comprised of light. The main considerations in lighting are whether the hologram is produced for the transmission or the reflection of light, the light source, ambient light, and the angle and distance of the light source.

With a transmission hologram, the holographic image is illuminated form behind and appears to float on air. Reflection holograms are illuminated by reflecting a light source off the front of its two-dimensional surface. When custom holograms are produced, transmission or reflection and angle of illumination can be specified to best suit the buyer’s design requirements.

For example, in a dark ride, a hologram is positioned and illuminated in such a way that the holographic film or plate seems to disappear, leaving only a floating holographic image. In other situations, lights can be positioned for minimal or no reflection off the holographic film or plate.

Control of the light source offers many special effects beyond three-dimensionality. By simply turning the light off, the image disappears. Turning on different light sources from different angles can create variations of the same scene or completely different scenes. Through the use of sensors, the audience can trigger certain functions, enabling them to interact directly with the holographic image.

Holography can be incorporated into parks in many ways at affordable prices, and is adaptable to any available space. Presently, hundreds of holographic images exist that visually support park themes. In addition, custom holograms are easily produced.

Holography has been around long enough to offer an impressive selection of existing images: minute to life-size, single to multiple, real to computer-generated, static to moving, Elvis to Michael Jackson, and monkeys to monsters. Existing holographic images, four by five inches to 11 by 14 inches, range in price form approximately $25 to $1,500. Large-format holograms, four by five feet, can cost more than $4,500.

Images that don’t exist in real life can be created through other existing two-dimensional media, then converted into “solid” three-dimensional holograms. To create a custom image, a “master” must first be produced in a holographic laser laboratory. Though the original master can be costly, duplicates generally cost a fraction of the original. Custom mastering costs range from $500 to more than $10,000 for holograms up to 11 by 14 inches in size, depending on type, complexity, and whether a holographic medium (scene, film computer animation, or digitized computer data) is supplied. Holograms larger than four by five feet can cost $25,000 or more, based on the same considerations.

By incorporating a hologram with themed environments, props, and dioramas, the content of the hologram is expanded to create a three-dimensional, life-like experience of any size. A tiger projected holographically into the jungles of Africa can appear to be leaping toward you. A hologram of a three-foot tarantula can change within the same space from a crouch to a striking position, and be surrounded by a dynamic real life setting. A rose can bloom before your eyes.

The cost of hologram interaction varies as much as the types. Embossed (mass-produced) holograms and kinetic diffraction gratings can be purchased for as little as $1 per square foot, while a custom four by five-foot, multicolored, multi-image hologram can cost more than $35,000.

Park operators can benefit from the merchandising aspect of holography. Already, many parks have holographic products. This gives guests a chance to take home the “magic” in souvenir form to share with their family and friends, or as a reminder of their park experience.

Holograms now can be incorporated into almost every gift imaginable. There are watches, jewelry, stickers, book marks, pencils, pens, caps, pins stationery, toys, iron-ons, and T-shirts. Also, many licensed manufacturers use holographic labels or attachments to protect against counterfeiting.

Imagine all the different photographs and pictures in parks becoming windows to a three-dimensional world. Holography opens up new worlds of possibilities. We now can create windows of visual reality and experience with the precision of a wavelength of light.

Most holographic images now and in the future will require only a white light source. Halogen bulbs are used most widely and are inexpensive, easily attainable, and give a sharp image lasting many hours. The wattage of the light source depends on the brightness requirements of the holographic image and the ambient light in the area where the hologram is displayed.

The special effects of the film and video industry are growing at an incredible pace. Advances in computer animation and morphing (where an object, person, or animal is transformed into another) can be incorporated into holography and become three-dimensional.

Virtual reality has created the opportunity to enhance our ability to interact with a computer-generated world. Holography creates “virtual” images. Soon, holographic viewing devices will be available for certain virtual reality experiences, eliminating the need for goggles. The holographic industry is on the threshold of holodeck-type experiences, similar to those in the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation, where guests can enter and control the outcome of a holographic adventure.

Many television and movie plots have used the concept of holography to justify a fantasy-reality twist to their plots. Some of the earlier ones where Mission Impossible, Star Trek, Banacek, Hardy Boys, General Hospital, and Logan’s Run. Recent television shows and movies, such as Total Recall, Star Wars, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Wild Palms, Quantum Leap, and Time Trak, also have used the holographic concept.

Holographic images can be projected to appear many feet in front of the hologram itself. Moving images can appear many feet in front of the hologram itself. Moving images can appear to float in space, and objects can occupy the same space at the same or at different times. Holography also can be used for futuristic design of décor.

As our world becomes increasingly high-tech and competition for the leisure dollar intensifies, many guests will demand that amusement parks offer the latest technology. The challenge for parks today is not simply to entertain, but to offer an experience that lasts a lifetime. Holography — accessible but largely unexplored technology — in its final form will be capable of bringing park quests such an experience.

Jeff Allen, author of Magic Windows: Pocket Holography, is a consultant for Interactive Entertainment & Education of Sausalito, Calif.