How I geeked out our 2 year anniversary with my very own Hologram 👻

The Big Bang Theory S06E05 — The Holographic Excitation

Backstory

On September 2016, my then-fiancé-today-wife Elia and myself were supposed to celebrate our 2 year anniversary together. Unfortunately, due to my relatively new role at the digital innovation labs of Tim Hortons & Burger King (RBI Digital), I had prior commitments and a planned business trip to Manhattan right on the date of our anniversary.

My guilt of not being around for this special occasion made me wonder— how can I celebrate my 2 year anniversary with my love, while not being there with her physically? Or even more concisely, How can I make my fiancé feel like I’m there, as much as possible, even though I’m not?

My geeky mind started brewing some thoughts. 🤔🤔🤔

What

After some googling around, a brainstorming session with myself and bumping into a bunch of very cool YouTube videos, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

I’m going to try and build a mini-hologram of myself with a romantic message surprising my fiancé on our 2 year anniversary. This seemed to me like the best I could do to be the closest as possible to her, and make her feel like I’m there, even when I’m not physically able to be.

The plan

  1. Creating a “Holographic” pyramid. This pyramid, which is actually assembled from 4 trapezoids, could be used with a specially prepared video to create a hologram-styled visual effect within the pyramid from the reflected video on its sides.

The Pyramid

This was really the trickiest part of all. I was sure this is going to be relatively easy and straightforward, and from watching some videos online, it was obvious to me my first strategy would be to use old CD cases and cut them with a utility knife to get the correct trapezoid-shaped sides and then glue them together.

I sketched out a single side of the pyramid, printed it out, and tried making the sides:

One side of the trapezoid that I printed in “real size” on a big piece of paper so I have a reference

This method has failed miserably and mainly provided me with a pile of useless, broken CD cases 😵👻

The plastic from which the CD cases are made was too strong on the one hand, and too fragile on the other hand. It couldn’t be easily cut with precision which made it a non-viable option. Failure #1. 😣

This made me realize I need something more flexible and that’s easier to cut. I went around some stores and eventually ran into an interesting option; Using an empty, clear laminate / plastic sheet. It is flexible and bendable, as well as easy to cut, but yet still has some basic durability to be able to form a pyramid.

And with that — it was on to attempt #2!

Cutting out the sides from clear laminate and gluing them together

This actually sort of worked. I was able to form a basic pyramid and even play a sample hologramic video on it with my phone.

The problem was, as I suspected, the material was too flimsy. The pyramid wouldn’t stand still on any screen and was definitely not durable enough for what I had planned.

Time to bring out the big guns. 💣💣💣

A good friend of mine, Omer Deutsch, who is a pretty amazing Guitar Luthier, also happens to be a gifted Industrial Designer. I decided I need some more professional help and then things finally started catching shape with the amazing help I got. Omer suggested using clear Perspex and laser cut the pieces in a professional shop so they are accurate and come together with ease.

He created a digital prototype of the pieces and a simulation of the assembeled pyramid.

We sent the designs to a laser cutting factory and got accurate pieces and even some glue to put everything together. I was finally good to go! 🎉

The Video

I have some intermediate video editing experience and knew that I basically had to film myself over a green screen so I can key out the background and create a “floating head” kind of hologram.

I also knew what I need to eventually create is a 4-sided video where the same video is played on all 4 sides towards the center. An example would look something similar to this:

Sample holographic video from “Hologram Project by Kiste” on YouTube

I bought myself some blue Bristol boards and glued them to our board room TV. Let the filming begin! 🎥🎬

Capturing some video on my improvised blue-screen :)

After taking some videos, I edited the parts I wanted and keyed out the blue color from the video and got a pretty decent result!

Keyed out “transparent” video

All done on the video side !

Delivery

As I rhetorically asked earlier — how do you get a non-technical person to play a hologram video on their device?

My fiancé uses her iPad mini at home all the time to watch YouTube videos. So it was obvious to me the easiest method would be to use the iPad, since it has a very good screen and isn’t too large. The question was, what would be the easiest way to accurately position the iPad above the pyramid? After some thoughts and discussions with Omer, it was decided we (and by saying “we” i mean mainly Omer’s very capable hands 😇) would build some sort of a “mount” that would hold the pyramid on the bottom and would have an exact slot for the iPad to be placed faced down, so it would project the video onto the sides of the pyramid accurately.

The mount with the pyramid attached to it, with an exact slot fitting Elia’s iPad mini

To make things even easier and more fun, I’ve created a tiny iPad app that only had 2 small responsibilities. If Elia opens the app on our anniversary, it would show her instructions on what’s going to happen and then play the video on the iPad. On the other hand, if she opened the app on any other day, it would show a message telling her to come back later. Pretty straightforward !

iPad app on our anniversary and on any other day.

That was it! Everything was done, tested and working !

The end

Right before I flew out to Manhattan, I gave Elia the “mount” as a gift and told her I made a special iPad app for our anniversary that’s on her device, and that she would know exactly what to do when the day comes.

Did it work? Oh yes it did. She was overwhelmed and excited, and it worked exactly as planned :)

🤓 Hologram-Shai 😇

This was a really fun challenge and I really enjoyed it! Hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed the process of making it! 🎉

iOS Tech Lead @ Gett 🚕 RxSwift & RxSwiftCommunity core contributor. International speaker and worldwide hackathon winner. Fiddling with tech for a living. 🤓

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