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Pepper's Ghost illusion of couple dancing in a room in the Mini Masterpieces exhibit at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Pepper's Ghost

How'd they do that?

Did you see the ghost-like characters appear out of thin air in the room in Mini Masterpieces? Did you wonder how our exhibits team was able to make one of the rooms come to life? It might look like magic, but it really isn’t. It’s an optical illusion known as Pepper’s Ghost and this technique has been used in film, amusement parks, museums, concerts, and the theater for more than 150 years!

Illustration of Pepper's Ghost in a theatre

Le Monde Illustré / Public domain

Named after inventor John Henry Pepper, who helped popularize this technique, the illusion is pretty simple. It requires a sheet of glass and some special lighting. When the glass is set at just the right angle, it can reflect an image from offstage. The audience sees the reflection on the glass and the image on the glass at the same time!

Diagram of how Pepper's Ghost works

In the world of theater, this involved the “ghost” performing in a room offstage under special lighting. Today, it can also involve high-quality projector screens and projectors that produce much more light than what oil lamps used in the 19th century could produce.

Pepper’s Ghosts in Mini Masterpieces

Pepper's Ghost in a Mini Masterpieces room at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

There’s no need for a room offstage to take advantage of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion in our miniature room! Thanks to digital technology, we were able to create this extraordinary effect on a miniature scale.

With the help of Emmanuel and Aidyn Carter, museum Actor Interpreter Maddie Deekin, and STEM Lead Interpreter Dom Oletti, our team filmed the Pepper’s Ghost sequences on the Lilly Theater stage.

Filming Pepper's Ghost illusion with a green screen inside Lilly Theater at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

They performed in front of what’s called a green screen. During editing, that green screen was digitally removed. Once all of the editing was completed and the room was ready for installation, it was time to put everything together. The glass was put into place. A monitor was installed. And Pepper’s Ghosts were ready to bring the room to life.

Pepper's Ghost illusion of a couple dancing in a Mini Miniatures room at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Pepper’s Ghost is a relatively simple illusion that can make a big impression. It certainly brings Mini Masterpieces to life! You’ve probably seen this technique in use and you didn’t even realize it. Politicians, newscasters, and other public speakers use Pepper’s Ghost any time they read from a teleprompter!

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Categories: Exhibits
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