THE IDEAS MAN
Duke’s holograms are etched onto the record. When a light hits its spinning surface, 3D images of the Millennium Falcon and TIE fighters appear.
It was in 1977, when Luke Skywalker discovered that Princess Leia had hidden a message inside R2-D2, that filmgoers around the world were introduced to the hologram.
“Star Wars made holography a household word,” says Duke, the optical artist who this year put holograms back into the sci-fi franchise, literally: His hand-etching on a special-edition vinyl of the soundtrack of The Force Awakens earned Duke and Walt Disney Records a prestigious Clio Award.
The Force is strong in this one.
Where did the idea for the etchings come from?
I discovered the work of [science hobbyist] William Beaty, who in the 1990s noticed a glint of light in the shape of a hand floating above a car hood in a parking lot. He’d stumbled across an accidental hologram. Somebody had inadvertently made scratches in the hood while polishing it, and these patterns reacted with the light to create an image of their hand. I started to think: Photography is to drawing as holography is to what? I call it holographic drawing—carving micro-reflectors, grooves, into a holographic plate.
So you etch vinyl records?
I got a call from Jack White [of White Stripes fame], saying, “I heard about these holograms and I’d like to have one on my next album. Can you have it ready in three weeks?” I was like, “No, but I’m willing to give it a try.” So I read everything I could about record manufacturing, built my own press out of a book press and two hot plates, then I started cutting up junk records and melting them down.
That’s when the Star Wars people came knocking?
As soon as they contacted me, I got very excited; I knew right away that it was a great fit. There are so many objects in the Star Wars universe that look great in a hologram—with black vinyl, you have this sense of deep space with ships flying around the void. The Star Wars hologram is the first I’ve done for vinyl records that has what we call “occlusion,” where there are solid parts that disappear when they go behind others.
How do you transfer a 3D object from your mind onto a 2D surface?
The first step is doing sketches from different vantage points to help me internalize the three-dimensional structure. I have to find a vantage point that doesn’t exist in space, looking at the object from an abstract, four-dimensional viewpoint. I’ve had to devise a different set of geometric rules that allow me to create a 3D holographic drawing.
How come we still don’t have holograms as good as the one in Star Wars?
The film planted an expectation so wildly outside of what was possible with holography. You’re capturing microscopic interference patterns smaller than wavelengths of light. In a normal photo, you get blur if the subject or camera moves; in a laser hologram, if you have any movement close to one-third of the wavelength of light, you get no image. You’re also casting a specific object at one-for-one scale—if you want a hologram of the Eiffel Tower, you need a plate the same size. Holographic drawing liberates holography from the shackles of indexicality; I can draw anything I imagine, as opposed to needing to find an object to hologram.
More about the project: infinitylightscience.com