I’m immersed in an exploration of our rapidly advancing dimensional technology. Teaching Tools for Creating in the 4th Dimension”, my online course, and researching for a book on the topic of 4D Arts has focussed me deeply into a study of a range of dimensional media: Holography, Pepper’s Ghost, 3D Projection Mapping, 3D in Domes, Lenticular Images, Auto-stereoscopy, Volumetric Images, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality. It has also engaged me with a wide range of recently developed supporting technologies, many of which are embracing novel approaches and developments - new camera technologies, new projection technologies, new displays, new graphics software, and another recent innovation, cloud rendering. When I think about the big picture of all that is going on I find myself using the metaphor of surfing a big wave—staying in balance, riding it and enjoying the ride.
The investment of $2 billion by Facebook into Oculus Rift and Google’s investment of $500,000,000 in Magic Leap has jolted everyone, a triple shot espresso, wow, it actually feels like it is finally happening. Now that’s a personal statement - to most of you out there it probably feels like these are brand new technologies, hot out of the box, breaking new ground - but to me it has been a long time coming. Those of us who have been in this field for a while (and you know who you are) have watched the evolution of most of these technologies (and the supporting technologies that make them work) and have witnessed the transformation that has happened as these supporting technologies have matured.
To give you a few examples: the idea for holograms occurred to Dennis Gabor back around 1946 -he needed a laser to be able to make them and that is what Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks did in 1962 when the first lasers became available. This was of course before the digital era - this was purely an optical process. The development of computer graphics, LCD displays, ever faster computers and graphics processors, and special full color emulsions made it possible to create large scale digital holograms with limited animation by the late 90’s.
Virtual Reality with Augmented Reality were the hot media of the 90’s but they were overhyped, the supporting technology wasn’t ready and the VR growth of that era, exciting as it was for those immersed in it, fizzled out by the late 90’s. Here we are now, in 2015, with faster displays, faster processors, higher resolution, new haptic devices and a whole slew of glasses, helmets and visors, and let’s not forget the cameras and advanced graphics and gaming software that make it such an exciting storytelling medium.
We can go back to Victorian times and look at Pepper’s Ghost illusions in theaters and see the foundational technology for the “holographic” recreation of Tupac Shakur, or the 200 trucks carrying “holographic” projections of Narenda Modi around India in his successful bid to become Prime Minister - now there’s a man who knows how to use the latest technology effectively! Disney used this technology with film projection technology since the 50’s in rides like the Haunted Mansion but a further evolution with again, computer graphics, advanced special effects, high powered, high resolution digital projectors, very wide rolls of mylar film instead of large glass sheets, high resolution satellite hookups - now we have Narenda Modi seemingly in front of us or Tupac performing “live” with Snoop Dog. The fact that this is just a projection, essentially a 2D computer generated image hanging in air that cleverly exploits various visual clues to trick us into thinking it is really 3D doesn’t seem to matter as so few people have seen a true hologram that they don’t know what to expect. Millions and millions of people have seen Princess Leia on a 2D film screen or the holodeck on a 2D TV screen - they have never seen these widely known Hollywood inventions in 3D so they really don’t know the difference.
We are also on a general audience learning curve. As audiences are exposed to more of these media they will become visually sophisticated and discerning with regard to 4D media and will command the more deeply immersive experiences created with the more advanced technologies.
So, as we move forward with our rapidly advancing technologies being funded at previously unimaginable levels, it is fun to look at it all and see the linkages, watch the impact of Moore’s Law (1), and try to figure out where it is all going to evolve to. It’s even more fun to jump in and use it right now - the technology is there and new additions keep appearing on what feels like a daily basis. What is most needed now is imaginative, well designed content from artists who are experimenting, pushing the envelope, riding the wave.
Linda Law is a Digital / Holographic Artist / Curator / Writer / Consultant. You can learn more about her and her educational programs at www.artinthe5thdimension.com or in her profile on LinkedIn.
(1) Moore’s Law: An observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965. He noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention. Moore's law predicts that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future.