The Making of The Phantogram of The Empress Hotel
Creating a "normal" Phantogram:
As creating a Phantogram requires extreme precision in camera set-up within a "calibrated space", most of the relatively few Phantogram artists shoot within a home studio set-up.
Example: A small subject is placed in the exact centre of a square piece of paper. Camera (digital best - for later digital perspective correction) is mounted on a slide-bar on a tripod set to look down at the subject from a 45 degree angle. After the exact centre of the subject is determined, a picture is taken both to the left and right of centre to create the "stereo pair", keeping the full square paper within both shots. The distance between the two shots is called "stereo-base", and determining this distance is a complicated process. However, for a 1:1 reproduction of the subject, stereo-base is equal to normal human eye-spacing of 2.5 inches. For a larger subject (like the 600 ft. long Empress) which gets viewed on a smaller (11" x 14" print), the "stereo-base" is increased dramatically. The stereo-base for The Empress Hotel, (ie. distance between the two shots), was 180 feet!
Because of the perspective distortion created when the camera is looking down at a 45 degree angle, (think how train tracks converge into the distance), the images of the square sheet of paper becomes a trapezoid. Importing the stereo-pair into a photo-processing program like PhotoShop, the now non-parallel sides are brought back to parallel employing "perspective correction".
The two images are superimposed and aligned at the four corners. (Unless camera set-up has been meticulous, here is where you see first problem.) Creating the "Anaglyph" print (red / blue) requires removing the red component from the right image, and the blue / green components from the left image. These two layers are merged for the final Anaglyph print, and the subject rises into thin air!
Creating The Empress Hotel Phantogram:
To get the required camera height, images were shot from a helicopter 1200 feet above the harbour. As the helicopter was costing $500 for my 20 minutes over target, I needed to work out my exact elevation, distance from Hotel and trajectory prior to the flight. Precise ground measurements were made of the entire Empress area, down to the ends of the jetties on the dock within the Inner Harbour. Government aerial photography and a wood scale model of the downtown area were used to determine the flight path and elevation.
Government Street served as my front horizontal line, but as both side streets don't run perpendicular to it, to create my "calibrated space", I had four people place bright material on ground in four carefully pre-determined locations during shoot which I hoped to be able to see on the film.
During the 3 months planning phase prior to shooting, I also had to design and build a camera adapter that would mimic the precision of a slide bar on a tripod. Though I've mentioned using
a digital camera, for The Empress I used my Nikon FM film camera, (55mm. Micro-Nikkor lens) with motor-drive shooting 3.5 frames / second.
Though pilot had been carefully briefed as to the needed precision of his direction, he erred, and his flight path was not perfectly parallel to the building front. Consequently one image was LARGER than the other! Because of the nature of Phantograms, this difference could not be fixed with common imaging software. Steve Boddy (co-creator in UK), using the obscure but elegant program "Bryce", was able to correct this flaw, and after many hours experimenting with the film
to digital images, determined the correct stereo pair and provided me with perspective corrected images. After determining the correct pair from a 16Mb. "roll scan", these frames from my 100 asa film were "drum scanned" at 65Mb./ frame to provide a sharp crisp image even for this larger print.
There were many other problems to overcome throughout the project. Suffice it to say, the fact
that a Phantogram of The Empress Hotel exists at all is somewhat of a miracle. To the best of my knowledge, this is the FIRST and currently only photographic Phantogram of a single building
in the entire world!
The Real Magic happens when you try to touch The Empress!