Homage a Georges Melies, “The Amazing Cinemagician”, FogScreen + RFID


The amazing French filmmaker/magician Georges Méliès is one of my heros and someone I take great inspiration from in my AR work. I often liken AR to cinema when it was first new, and Méliès’ approach to this form still amazes me. Often referred to as ‘the father of special effects’, Méliès’ work explored the fantastical and visual tricks of the medium, bringing in his background as a stage magician to create wonders for the eyes.


As part of Nuit Blanche 2009 in Toronto last night, Jackman Hall at the AGO featured films by Méliès and the Lumiere Brothers, accompanied by live improvised scores by pianists. It was amazing to experience live.


And so here is documentation from a project I did I’ve been meaning to post for quite a while now. It is not AR, but it is an homage to one of my inspirations in AR. The piece combined the FogScreen, RFID technology, and Méliès’ films.



“The Amazing Cinemagician” project description:


“The walk-through FogScreen is a novel and intriguing method for forming a superior-quality, physically penetrable fog projection screen. It is a break-through technology, literally! The image floats in thin air and when you touch or walk through it, you can’t feel anything. It is a little like magic.”


The Walk-Through Fog Screen Experience, SIGGRAPH 2003, Emerging Technologies, San Diego


In fact, the FogScreen is a lot like magic.


“The Amazing Cinemagician” integrates Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology with the FogScreen, linking the emerging technology of the FogScreen with the pre-cinematic magic lantern and phantasmagoria spectacles of the Victorian era. “The Amazing Cinemagician” was created in homage to the great French filmmaker and magician Georges Méliès (1861- 1938). Méliès, often referred to as the ‘father of special effects’ in cinematography, became famous for the trick-film, utilizing a stop-motion and substitution technique through the splicing of film, multiple exposures and various other methods. Méliès was a stage magician before being introduced to cinema at a preview of the Lumiere brothers’ invention, where he is said to have exclaimed, “That’s for me, what a great trick” (62).


card reader


The project “The Amazing Cinemagician” is based on a card-trick, using physical playing cards as an interface to interact with the FogScreen. RFID tags are hidden within each physical playing card. (Part of the magic and illusion of this project was to disguise the RFID tag as a normal object, out of the viewer’s sight.) Each of these tags corresponds to a short film clip by Méliès, which is projected on to the FogScreen once a selected card is placed atop the RFID tag reader.



A Complete List of Georges Méliès Films Used in “The Amazing Cinemagician”:


“Une Homme de Tetes”, 1898.


“Evocation Spirite”, 1899.


“La Lanterne Magique”, 1903.


“Le Cake-Walk Infernal”, 1903.


“Les Cartes Vivantes”, 1904.


Petro, Patrice. “Fugitive Images: From Photography to Video.” Indiana University Press, 1995.

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