Making the Ghosts Live

The Back Story

Photos: [left] Morgan Cooper; [right] David Stuart

Left: David Stuart; Right: Scott Dorman

Photographer David Stuart was on assignment for IEEE Spectrum in an atmospheric cemetery in Atlanta when he noticed an odd, bright apparition in the LCD panel of his digital SLR. ”I got really excited for a second,” he says, ”but then I realized it was just a sun flare.” So it was left to photo retoucher Scott Dorman of Smalldog Imageworks and illustrator Bryan Christie to get ghosts into the shot.

The three collaborated on the largest effort ever undertaken at Spectrum to bring an artistic concept to life, and you can see the results on the opening page of ”Is It Live or Is It AR?” in this issue. (The three also worked on this month’s cover image, showing a T. Rex head.) Senior Art Director Mark Montgomery came up with the idea and deployed the all-star team of past contributors to capture the emerging technology of augmented reality. ”Many of the practical uses of augmented reality are for museums,” says Montgomery. ”So we wanted to show a person using AR as a virtual museum guide.”

The image portrays the heartbreaking story of a woman, Sarah K. Dye, who carried her dead infant through Union lines during a Civil War siege to bury him in the cemetery. Dye’s likeness has clearly been incorporated into an existing photo. It might be less obvious, however, that even the ”existing” photo doesn’t exist. The picture’s elements—the tombstones, the man’s face, his shirt, his hands, and the reflections on his glasses—were pieced together from about 2500 different shots. ”You don’t want it looking like you slapped it together out of 10 parts,” says Dorman, which meant that the image needed to be ”slapped together” out of hundreds of parts.

See our separate slideshowon the making of this month's IEEE Spectrum cover.

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