Pepper's Ghost Illusion
A DIY GUIDE
It’s fun to look back on family vacations and explore the vivid images that stick in our minds. I have a memory of being about 9 years old and visiting a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum in Florida during a family vacation. Amidst taxidermied two-headed animals, a lifelike wax sculpture of the tallest man in the world, and rooms designed to play tricks on your eyes, there was one simple installation that I found completely mind-boggling. The installation looked like a normal bathroom, but as I walked past it objects appeared out of thin air! I took some steps backward and those same objects disappeared. I couldn’t see any screens, motors, or mirrors and no matter what angle I looked at this scene from I saw nothing that explained how objects were popping in and out of thin air. It felt like magic.
In reality, it was a clever optical illusion. Illusions are a place where science and technology meet art and performance to create experiences that seem impossible. The illusion my 9-year-old self saw was an example of something called the “Pepper’s Ghost” illusion.
The Pepper’s Ghost illusion is a special effects technique invented in the 1800’s to make it look like ghostly objects were appearing on stage during theater shows. This technique is still used at places like amusement parks, museums, and concerts. For example, Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride uses the Pepper’s Ghost illusion to make it look like there are ghosts dancing in a ballroom.
With Halloween coming up soon, now is the perfect time to try creating your own spooky illusion like the one above. All you need is a sheet of clear plastic and a smartphone or tablet.
Activity length: 25 – 30 minutes
Who’s this activity for: This DIY illusion craft is for all ages, but children under 12 may need some help from an adult.
- Gather these materials:
- 1-2 overhead transparency sheets (these work great)
- Tape (double sided works best)
- A smartphone or tablet
- Print this template onto a sheet of paper and tape it to a transparency sheet or print it directly onto the transparency sheet. Important note: printing directly onto the transparency sheet will only work if you have a laserjet printer. The ink from inkjet printers won’t dry on the transparency sheet and will easily smear.
- Cut, fold, and tape the template according to the template instructions.
Test your illusion. You can find a list of videos that work well for this illusion here or by searching “3D hologram videos” on YouTube. Find a video that you like and place the plastic pyramid on your smartphone or tablet screen.
Tips for making your illusion look great:
- Turn the screen brightness on your smartphone or tablet all the way up
- Dim the lights in your room or turn the lights off
- Set up your smartphone or laptop so that you can see the pyramid at eye level
- Cut your plastic pyramid carefully and don’t be afraid to take apart your pyramid and tape it back together.
Looking for a fun challenge? Create your own Pepper’s Ghost illusion video using Scratch, an easy-to-use coding website. Here’s an example of a Pepper’s Ghost illusion video that I created in Scratch:
You can get started with making your own video by “remixing” my Scratch project. Remixing a project on Scratch means that you can make a copy of someone else’s project and change the code to make it your own. To remix this project you can click on this link and press the green button that says “remix.”
Here are some challenges to get you started:
- Make the dinosaur move slower or faster (hint: change the number next to where the code says “wait”)
- Replace the dinosaur with another character
- Find another way to control how the dinosaur moves, can you create a noise-activated dinosaur hologram?
Can you make a link between a passion you have today and an experience you had as a kid? At The Hopper, we want to give kids an opportunity to engage in STEAM activities and create memories and inspiration that blossoms into lifelong passions. We hope you try this DIY, and if you do please share your results with us on our social media, or by tagging us with: @hopperboulder