WHEN THE DREAM COMES ALIVE
by SUZANNE BOYNTON
That's how Jeffrey Allen describes holography and holograms – those 3-D images that seem to be cropping up everywhere, like on your new driver's license and credit cards. And Allen should know. He's been working with holography for 25 years and shares some of the breakthrough patents on the process.
Describing holography as magic is easier than explaining it, said Allen, the Thomas Edison and P.T. Barnum of holography. "Do you understand how television works? Well, you don't have to know how this works to enjoy it, either."
By capturing all the light that makes an object visible (not just the surface light, the way a photograph does), holograms make it possible to see an image in 3-D, or to see several images moving in sequence, noted Allen, turning his business card to reveal a holographic rose opening from a bud.
Television is buying. "'General Hospital' did a holographic episode with Elizabeth Taylor. They used it as a plot, that you can create something that isn't. It shows how powerful the medium is."
And it's the direction Allen is already going. "We're getting less into framed holograms and more into haunted houses – whole environments where the holograms are the subject matter within the environment – incorporated with other fantasy facades."
From a cluttered Potrero Hill studio that he shares with his girlfriend, Allen designs his productions, which have included virtual reality set-ups at Santa Rosa's Health and Harmony Fair and a 2,000-square-foot techno-environment at last month's National Association of Television Productions Executives convention, an international event, at the Moscone Center.
Allen, who traipses throughout the United States and into Canada in rented trucks, dragging his equipment to fairs and conventions, sets up and tends the displays personally. He says he never tires of watching the reaction of the child in everyone passing a hand through a hologram: "Nobody goes away from them feeling bad."
He'd like to do the Sonoma County Fair Flower Show. "I'd like to incorporate holograms with what they're doing. Their focus goes so much into that area. I want to use that as an example for other fairs as what a fair can do. It's such an outstanding statement."
Holographic entertainment isn't cheap – it can cost as much as $20,000 to make a hologram from scratch. Allen usually uses those from his collection of about 150, which he claims is the world's largest private collection. His fees mainly cover expenses.
"I get the pleasure of getting people exposed to it," he rationalizes. "Eventually it's really going to blow up and I'll be well-positioned. I expect to have 10 to 20 million people go to the events where I'll be a major attraction. That's how many people go to Disneyworld."
And he expects to double his 1992 income this year, to about $80,000.
Back in the 1960s, after dropping out of a Salt Lake City high school, and trying college briefly, Allen headed for Hollywood.
"I was working in entertainment, producing shows. Mike Foster was doing light shows for me. He mentioned some of his inventions and I realized these weren't just innovations – they were quantum-leap concepts in technology," Allen recalled. They teamed up, with Allen doing promotion and fund-raising.
One of their projects was the embossed hologram, for which they received a patent.
"We were working on flat telescopes instead of long – that's how we got into holograms. We developed embossing – like the way they press records – to reproduce our lenses, not for credit cards, but so you could have binoculars like sun-glasses. I think it will go down as one of the major breakthroughs of the century."
A holographic image embossed on a National Geographic cover increased the magazine's circulation by half a million, he said. A reader with one eye wrote Allen that the magazine cover was the first thing he had actually seen in three dimensions. "It's one of the more touching experiences of my life," Allen said.
Another of Allen and Foster's patents is for the hologram visible in ordinary daylight. Before its development, you needed a laser to see holograms.
Allen's other credits include special effects for the TV series "Logan's Run," set in space in the 23rd Century; producing a series of American fine art holographic movies and 360-degree holographic movies for the Japanese market, and drafting and negotiating the first holographic license for Atari.
Allen has added computer animation to his repertoire. It's not like the Saturday morning chaos cartoons – more like watching flowers bloom. A couple of years ago, people weren't interested, but now they stand in line to see it. "People are realizing sex and violence aren't the only forms of entertainment.
"It's magic without malice," Allen said.