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February 12, 2013 3:04 pm

Holograms Preserve Memories as Time Takes Its Toll on Holocaust Survivors

avatar by Zach Pontz

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The infamous sign adorning the entrance to the Auschwitz Nazi death camp.

A hi-tech initiative is aiming to preserve the stories of the Holocaust as the ageing population of survivors diminishes in number.

USC is teaming with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, and design firm Conscience Display, to develop holograms of survivors telling their stories. The 3-D installations will allow  “students and others [to] converse with the hyper-photorealistic life-size digital versions,” reports.

“The effect that it gives is a lot more that that person is there in the room with you than that person was filmed some time ago somewhere else,” Paul Debevec, a professor of computer science at USC and associate director of graphics research at the school’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) told Cnet. “I think it’s going to be considerably more engaging and immersive and moving than if they’re just up there on a video screen.”

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According to Cnet: “The project relies on light-stage technology developed by ICT to record interviews using multiple cameras for high-fidelity playback. ICT has been creating digital versions of people with its Light Stage systems since the year 2000, but researchers are significantly enhancing the technology for the survivor project.”

The article continues, “For example, the USC team is building a Light Stage system that can for the first time holographically record a full body, and do so with more spatial and angular fidelity than the smaller facial-recording system the team has built and used for the project so far.”

Debevec says that the project is going beyond anything done before. “Everything that we’re doing is getting retooled and to some extent reinvented specifically for recording the testimony of a survivor,” he says, “to do it in a way that when we project it holographically, it’s a very absolute literal playback of exactly the way they said it, exactly the way they looked when they were doing it.”

One of the key developments is the authentic feel of the hologram. Audience members, depending on where they’re sitting, will be able to see the virtual survivors from different vantage points, as they would if it was an actual human being sitting in a chair on-stage.

“If you’re sitting [at] the front, you see that person from the front. If you’re sitting to the right, you’ll see them to the right,” Debevec says. “Even as you just shift in your seat and move your head back and forth… the viewpoint will shift then, too, appropriately, and you’ll get an effect called motion parallax, which is even a more strong and visceral sense of the three-dimensionality than you get with binocular stereo.”

An estimated 6 to 10 percent of Holocaust survivors die annually, according to San Francisco’s Tauber Holocaust Library and Education Program, whose data shows that 500,000 Holocaust survivors remain worldwide, with about 120,000 of those residing in the United States. Their average age is estimated to be 79.

“We lose many of our survivors every year,” Debevec says. “We definitely feel the sense of urgency and that realistically it’s going to be now or never.”

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