Rick Robinson

Jul 26th 2020

The Future of 3D Holograms Looks Bright


The future of 3D holograms holds endless possibilities. Although we see real holograms all around us on items like our credit and debit cards, holography has a multitude of applications that don’t directly involve the 3-D visual effect. For example, holographic computer memory devices can be read more rapidly than any present memory device.

But let’s be honest. What you really want to know is whether genuine 3D images — true holograms — will be coming soon to a movie theater or concert venue near you.

Visualizing 3D and the Theater of Illusion

In a way, theater arts are all about optical illusions — actors only seem to fall in love, and characters killed off in the third act come out to take a bow at the end. On a similar note, what may appear to be a 3D hologram is often not.

According to holographer Fernando Catta-Preta, there are multiple ways to create a 3D effect for the human eye. Some — such as Pepper’s Ghost, a special effects technique for creating ghostly images — are time-honored tricks of the illusionist’s trade. These remain popular, for example, at Disney World. They are also common in the stage tricks that make Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley appear onstage with Tupac Shakur.

Others, such as the familiar movie effect produced by 3D glasses, rely on the fact that what we see is a creation of our optic nerves, not just our eyes. Show a slightly different image to each eye, and the mind will integrate them into a single 3D image.

Bringing Real Images Onstage

But a hologram is an actual image — not an illusion.

Oddly enough, the realness of a hologram makes its future something of a challenge for Hollywood. The audience sits in their seats, looking up at a screen where events take place. But if a genuine 3D image is projected into the theater, audience members would see it from different angles depending on where they are sitting. People in the front row might need to turn around to even see anything.

This is not a problem with today’s 3D movies, because the 3D glasses produce a subtle optical illusion rather than an actual image.

Holographic movies would be different. Similar to stage plays where the action onstage sometimes spills out into the aisles, images could be projected into the theater to intermingle with the audience. Of course, in the case of holographic movies, the film prints would have to allow adjustment so that the filmed aisles aligned correctly with the actual aisles of the theater where the film is being shown.

Complications like this suggest that the first widespread use of holograms in popular entertainment will likely be at concerts, not in theatrical films. These holograms would not be illusions of former entertainers — as they are now — but actual images of performers, perhaps playing live at another venue.

3D holograms may also find a home on the live stage, allowing actors to directly interact with holographic images. Such interactions could include walking through each other, something that could not be done with Pepper’s Ghost or other forms of optical illusions.

More work needs to be done, technologically and artistically, before the full potential of the holographic medium can be expressed in popular entertainment. Still, the future of holograms is bright — and likely to surprise us.