This is the ultimate guide to creating a Pepper’s Ghost effect in 2021.
In this new guide, I’ll show you how to create a professional illusion that can be used in theater productions, museums, haunted houses, and amusement parks.
Here’s how a Pepper’s Ghost illusion works:
What is Pepper’s Ghost?
Referred to as “horror theaters”, these performances used magic lanterns and projections to show frightful projections on stage. Dircks’ invention proposed a new method to projecting these images. His goal was to sell his concept to theaters in the area, but many rejected the new concept. To use Dircks’ idea, theaters would have to be completely redesigned, a costly and complicated method many did not want to undertake. This fact kept theater owners uninterested in changing their current setup.
How the Illusion Works
*Skip ahead to 1:26 to see how Disney uses the world’s largest Pepper’s Ghost effect in their Haunted Mansion ride*
There are two versions to making this illusion come to life through the designs of Dircks’ and Pepper. Both father’s had their own method to creating Pepper’s Ghost. Companies of today are less likely to use these older methods. Today, computer based projects and animation software are more often utilized.
Tools & Materials Needed
- Glass Mirror
- A Light Source
- An Empty Room
- A Display Box
Step 1: Building at Home
Step 1: Understanding Pepper’s Ghost and How it Works
To design a haunting hologram for Halloween, you will need a few materials to get started. The main components throughout are a pane of glass, a light source, and a space to setup your scene. I recommend starting small with a shoe box sized display to test your idea. Once you’ve tested your illusion, you can go bigger by setting up two rooms like the slider display below. Have your glass be placed 45 degrees between the two spaces. Then project your light into the second room holding your objects, while your main room remains empty. You can play around with the amount of light you want to use, as well as if you want a stationary object or live actor in the second room’s space.
This trick can work with photos, videos, or live performances
Step 2: Alternative Version
Step 2: Modern Technology
An alternative method to making this age old illusion, is to use modern day technology. Pre-made 3D models get made on computers, smartphones and animation software. These images are then projected onto an Optical Beam Splitter on stage. Compared to the ghost like look of Pepper’s Ghost, CGI holograms are view-able from all sides. These holograms come across in a crisp, clear high definition displays. This helps make the holograms appear even more life like being fully rendered. Video projection and motion capture technology combined create CGI “digital doubles.” These digital doubles can be of celebrities, politicians, and world leaders of today and years past. Old footage of performers can be altered in animation software to bring dead celebrities back to life. Famous performances like Tupac at Coachella in 2012 and Michael Jackson at the Billboard Music Awards in 2014 make use of such technology.
Pro Tip 1:
pro tip 1
Programs like p5.js allow you to create an animation that can be projected onto a glass mirror on stage, giving an even more life Pepper’s Ghost effect without a live actor, prop and large stage room being needed on standby.
Pro Tip 2:
pro tip 2
You are also not limited to just using a glass mirror or Plexiglas to bring holograms into the real world. A smartphone can be all you need to summon fantastic illusions and holograms.
Pepper’s Cone is where you place a curved surface on a table to reflect the image on a 2D display. There are a few tips and tricks you will need to obtain this illusion, which can be found in the video above.
This hologram dome is similar to the Pepper’s Ghost Illusion. It creates 3D images off a 2D surface.
The looking glass is a unique interpretation of the Pepper’s Ghost effect. It creates an object inside of a piece of glass that you can interact and play with.
DIY Smartphone Version
You can even create your own Pepper’s Ghost illusion with your smartphone.
Bonus Info: Other Applications
Pepper’s Ghost is commonly made through stage illusions in theater, but it has also been shown in amusement parks, museums, television shows and movies, as well as at live concert performances. Some of today’s modern rides use computer generated images instead of real models reflected back to the audience. Here is a list of other Pepper’s Ghosts you may come across out at these locations.
Twilight Zone (Walt Disney World)
The above video shows the ballroom dancing from the Twilight Zone attraction in Walt Disney World. The video gives you insider footage of the attraction, and how it works.
Myster Lodge (Knott's Berry Farm)
The above video shows a part of the Myster Lodge (Knott’s Berry Farm) where he creates the Pepper’s Ghost illusion in fire.
Ghosts of the Library (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum exhibits a Pepper’s ghost illusion where a ghost of Abraham Lincoln makes an appearance.
Hogwarts Express (Universal Studios)
The Harry Potter Universal Studios uses the Pepper’s Ghost Illusion that allows people to “walk through a brick wall” to reach Platform 9 3/4.
Aside from the wonders amusement parks can offer with these illusions, live concerts have really upgraded their style by bringing performers to life! They can even sometimes bring deceased performers back to life as well. Singers like Gorillaz, Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson and Frank Zappa have all been brought to life through this technology.
These types of displays take more custom projection media server software, as well as specialized stretched film with added animation overlays
Bringing Non-Living Celebrities to Life
The video above shows a performance that was created using the Pepper’s Ghost Illusion that allows artists who are no longer living to perform for a live audience.
In 2012, Tupac was able to perform with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre for a Coachella live performance. Tupac was created using the Pepper’s Ghost mirror illusion.
Michael Jackson was also able to perform for a live audience as well using the Pepper’s Ghost illusion.
The Gorillaz were able to create a Pepper’s Ghost effect, too!
This haunted house is a Universal Studios original. They created the story-line, characters and implemented realism to make the story behind the house come alive.
When you are waiting in line they have a huge projection screen showing a live Facebook feed of two teenagers, Sid and Nancy, and their antics to damage the cemetery where the glowing mother resides and watches over. Normally she likes children but not when they are there to do wrong.
This haunted house has two mirror illusions that I have seen and found in my walkthroughs: an infinity mirror and a pepper’s ghost illusion. I’ll outline them in the details below and a timestamp of a walk-through from YouTube. The video is not mine but it does show the illusions quite nicely.
One of my favorite parts is actually not a mirror illusion but a sound illusion. At the very end there is a dark tunnel that has been completely sound proofed.
When the person turns the camera toward the skeleton they are frightened and in an instant the scare-actor disappears. You don’t see a mirror though in its place so it has to be a pepper’s ghost effect to show the wall behind where the scare-actor appears and disappears.
At 1:38 when the person holding the camera rounds the corner, they are met by the same actor coming from behind a black curtain. This is because in order for the pepper’s ghost effect to work, the actor has to be in a dark area and illuminate themselves to be seen.