Pepper’s Ghost effect involves creating the illusion of a
ghost through optical trickery and was first used during the
middle of the 1800s. Pepper’s Ghost effect succeeds the
Phantasmagoria ghost show which originated in France during
the French Revolution and used rear projection which could
be repositioned to make images move on walls, on
semi-transparent screens, and inside of smoke, to produce
the effect of an apparition.
Pepper’s Ghost effect, created by Henri Pepper, was the predecessor of cinema and was used to create an illusion of a ghost in front of a live public audience during a theatrical production. At the end of the 19th century Henri Pepper used this illusion in many theatrical performances and it was often associated with photographs which produced illusions of transparent ghosts. Although this was not due to Pepper’s Ghost effect and instead was the result of the long exposure required of photographs from this period, many still related it to Pepper’s Ghost effect that they experienced in theatrical performances.
How Pepper’s Ghost Effect Works
The illusion of a ghost is created by an actor who remains out of sight from the audience in a room that is completely painted in black. The audience views a scene through a piece of plate glass such as a room with furniture, a dungeon, or any other type of scene. The actor is costumed in the black room with a beam of light focused directly on the actor which creates a reflection in the plate glass. When the audience views the scene through the plate glass, they see the reflection of the actor on the glass which provides the illusion of a transparent ghost.
How to Create Pepper’s Ghost Effect
Pepper’s Ghost effect is still used for Halloween festivities, in amusement park haunted houses, and a variety of other purposes. It is not difficult to create Pepper’s Ghost effect if you have the right materials and know how to present it properly to maximize the effect to your audience of viewers.
The materials which are used to create Pepper’s Ghost effect are quite simple and include a large piece of glass at least several feet tall by several feet wide, a light to focus on the subject, a black room, black fabric, or black backdrop, and a light dimmer which can be used as an option instead of a requirement. The plate glass can also be substituted with Plexiglas as long as there are no imperfections or scratches. For optimal results though plate glass provides the best effect.
The most difficult part of the project is finding a piece of plate glass that is large enough to make the effect a success with your audience. Sometimes you can find it in thrift stores however you will have to look around to find a piece that will produce the best effect for your project.
For the next step, it is necessary to find a suitable location where you can set up the effect without sacrificing any of the illusions you want to create. Depending upon where you set it up, it may require some construction if you cannot find a setting that will accommodate this type of project.
Create the black backdrop where the actor will be located. You can create this with black cloth or a constructed plywood room that is completely covered with black paint. Whatever you choose, make sure the room is completely hidden from the view of your audience.
Create a scene which will be situated behind the plate glass. You can use your imagination here and set it up as a room in a haunted house with a chair where the ghost will be seated or any other creative ideas you can come up with.
The lighting behind the plate glass and in the black room where the actor is located will require adjustment so you can clearly see the props behind the plate glass as well as the transparent illusion of the actor. The brighter the light the less transparent the image will seem and lower light levels will make the image appear to be more transparent. This is where a light dimmer can come in handy because it will make it easier to adjust the lighting for the perfect effect.
The plate glass will need to be positioned at a 45 degree angle to the black backdrop to enable the actor’s refection to be seen by the viewing audience. The visible edges must then be camouflaged in a way which is not obvious to the audience that the plate glass is present.
Pepper’s Ghost effect is used with current technology such as with military fighter planes where the pilot does not have time to look down to get the data that is needed to operate the plane. This is where Pepper’s Ghost effect can be used with modern day technology by reflecting the data on the screen at the right depth so the pilot does not have to refocus and without obstructing the pilot’s view out of the plane.
Pepper’s Ghost effect can also be used with GPS systems where instead of looking down at the instructions to figure out what they mean you can see them hovering in front of you and out on the road where your vision is focused.
With new technologies emerging on a frequent basis it will be interesting to see the different ways that Pepper’s Ghost effect will be used in the next five to ten years.