For my final project in Video Sculpture class, I made a miniature 3D display top for the iPhone, using the illusionary technique of the Pepper’s Ghost Effect.

I wanted to recreate the feeling as a kid when you catch fireflies in a jar, or bugs in a box, and you wish you could carry those living things around with you everywhere you go. In my box, I decided to include a variety of living things, ranging from butterflies to chipmunks to…(surprise) dinosaurs.

I constructed my own pepper’s ghost box for the iPhone 4S, based on the documentation from the Japanese crew who built the i3DG Palm Top Theater. The makers did not include a pattern or DIY instructions, so I was on my own for the construction, which was a really fun challenge.

Using regular clear plexi glass (not mirrored plexi), I built a small scale 3-paneled box that encompassed the screen size of the iPhone.

In order to get the correct measurements for this physical construction, I had to first section the iPhone screen into 3 parts of the overall 960 x 480 format. I found these proportion guidelines from the i3DG Palm Top Theater makers. The top portion of the screen should be the largest width, and descending in width to the bottom. These distortions will help make the 3D video objects appear layered in foreground and background. Each part also has a black space below it for the plexi glass to be placed on. I cut out paper patterns, then cardboard patterns, and then I laser cut the real plexi glass according to these measurements.

After I cut out the plexi glass shapes using the laser cutter, I glued the pieces together in 45 degree angles to help create the 3D visual effect. Then I enclosed my iPhone and the pepper’s ghost box top inside of a user-friendly black plastic box to make it look like a seamless object, kind of like a child’s toy. This small, dark enclosure space really helped enhance the effect of making the video objects appear 3D and morphing into one another in the foreground and background.

I created several short videos featuring living things, such as animals, insects, and fantastical creatures, moving around in different environments, like grass swaying in the breeze and rain falling. I primarily used green screen for these objects, and in After Effects, I used the keylight effect in order to key out the green screen. Then I layered these video objects using the iPhone screen layout measurements to create 3 sections for the pepper’s ghost effect.

It worked! The rain effect looks amazing inside the tiny box, and the butterflies look very delicate and realistic. My classmates really liked the end product and imagined that this sort of box could easily be turned into a marketable toy for kids, especially if the user interaction could use the iPhone’s accelerometer to control the movement of video objects.

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