The flamboyant doctor, dressed in his white laboratory coat, spins a transparent empty cylinder: “look,” he says mysteriously. Curious, we focus on the inside of the cylinder… A 3D female figure appears and starts dancing, changing colours from red to a shades of green, yellow and orange. When the rotation stops, the psychedelic dancer disappears. Puzzled, I look at Doctor Laser: “this is a 21st century flip book!” he laughs. “More than 2000 holograms are printed on the transparent film stuck on the cylinder, and rotating it is like flipping the pages. He asks us to follow him into his secret laboratory, tucked down underneath the streets of Midtown Manhattan to uncover the oldest holographic studio in the world.
By his real name Jason Sapan, Dr. Laser guides us through a narrow staircase into the basement of a former blacksmith’s forge he turned into his workshop back in the 70’s. As one of the pioneers of holography, Jason has been carrying out his work for more than 40 years in the dark and extricate laboratory that we are carefully entering, passing rolls of shiny hologram paper and samples of previous commissioned works for brands wanting to advertise in a futuristic way.
A red laser beam shines steadily throughout the pitch-dark lab until Dr. Laser diffracts it towards the ground using a hologram he was carrying. The red patterns dancing on the floor seem to represent a neuron network. In a playful way, Jason wants to impress us more before explaining about holograms: “Are you ready for some more action?”
After asking us if we minded cigarette smoke, he lights one, drags the smoke in, and blows it in the dark room as fast as he can, repeatedly. When he thinks there is enough smoke, he lits up and rotates a green laser beam with his hand. The irregular smoke patterns are lit up by the dynamic beam: it feels like we have just embarked the DeLorean car of the movie Back to the future while it travels through time! With the voice over of Dr. Laser emerging from the darkness and his acting talents, we feel immersed in the science fiction movie.
A few more tricks later, Doctor Laser is about to reveal the scientific principle behind holograms. “A hologram is the photograph of the shape light waves have taken when they bounce off a 3D object,” Jason explains. In other words, a hologram is the capture of a light field: it is an absolutely precise, three-dimensional image of the real object printed on a 2D medium.
To capture a hologram, Dr. Laser uses a red laser beam of a specific wavelength, and he separates its beam into two. One hits the object of interest, and is reflected onto the recording medium. The other goes straight to the recording medium, a special transparent hologram film onto which layers on information are captured. Actually, it is the interference between both beams, the object beam and the reference beam, that is recorded and allows the accurate reproduction of the 3D object down to the resolution of the scale of the wavelength, i.e. about 500 nanometres.
Used to taking photographs, we understand why the laser installation is carefully set up on a floating table, protecting it from vibrations: a hologram is so precise that there can be no vibrations allowed during the recording, and in the underground of Manhattan this can be a challenge!
“After developing the film with a series of different chemicals I do not want to bore you with, the 3D photograph comes to life in different colours depending on the wavelengths used.”
Back to the ground-floor, we browse through dozens of holograms made for commercial purposes, for sheer fun or experiment. Portraits of famous people such as Bill Clinton, New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Billy Idol and Andy Warhol, just to name a few, stick out of the wall in 3D through a transparent cylinder. Space shuttles, dancers and exotic animals on holographic film decorate the opposite wall. We are looking at these holograms from different angles, tilting our heads: the represented objects show themselves from different perspectives, just like they would if we were looking at the real object.
Dr. Laser shows us the one by one by one-metre holographic representation of the palace of the sultan of Brunei, before we dig into the one of a car with the mechanic of the engine animated!
We are both puzzled by this handmade technology wonderland and looking at all these holograms like kids. Doctor Laser is passionate and keeps bringing some more, answering questions, joking, and highlighting the pertinence of a technology he dedicated his life to: “A hologram the size of a human brain could store every document ever written in human history”, as the data is stored at the light-wave scale! Indeed, beyond entertainment, the scope of applications is endless and high-Tech industries have been working on the topic to develop what may be the media of the future, from biomedical applications where holograms are made inside live organs through optical fibers, providing more details than any previous alternate technique to head up displays currently used in military aircraft and holostore or holographic computer memory systems that will have thousands time more memory capacity and no mechanical movements compared to today’s data storage.
Thank you Doctor Laser for this leap into the future!
Claire & Marcella
- The hologram gallery of the Holographic Studios is open for free, and tours & workshops to make your own hologram can be booked directly with the Holographic Studios.
- Doctor Laser has his own collection of objects, and will advise you on the best object to make your own hologram of it during one of his workshops.
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!