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keith tucker

image of tucker's 3d object illusion
3D Object Illusion (2006) (rendered image)
3D Object Illusion (2006)
Display case and computer animation

At the heart of most visual illusions and cinematic special effects, lies the seemingly impossible combination of two or more objects from different space/time realities in one physical space. At their simplest, these illusions are achieved by sleight of hand, as when a magician draws an egg from a child's ear. At the other end of the spectrum lies the digital wizardry that allows us to follow the flight of a bullet in a film like The Matrix (1999).

In the mid 1800s, the British lanternist John Henry Pepper mastered a theatrical illusion which became known as Pepper's Ghost. An actor stood in a pit in front of the stage, lit by strong lights, but below the audience's line of sight. A large sheet of glass was placed on the edge of the stage, tilted slightly towards the audience. The actor's reflection appeared on the glass, and actors behind the glass could interact with this ghostly half-form, who could walk through the scenery, and disappear from view by moving out of the light. This illusion was used in productions of Hamlet and other entertainments requiring visitations from the beyond.

Keith Tucker's 3D Object Illusion evokes the tradition of Pepper's Ghost, as a petite lyre bird pecks and dances within the confines of a wooden display case. On close inspection we recognise the bird as an animation, yet it seems to have flown free from any computer screen or projection to move independently within the space of the box.

The strength of an audience's reaction to this kind of visual illusion depends on the degree of impossibility involved; representations of ghosts produce a stronger sense of amazement than images of living beings. A contemporary audience has a different sense of the departed than that of our Victorian counterparts. Tucker observes, 'the concept was driven by the idea of trying to animate and bring to life some of the exhibits at the Melbourne Museum. The attraction of apparently seeing what may be an extinct animal, notionally coming to life, inside a display case was quite compelling.'

Fiona Trigg, ACMI
October 2006

Keith Tucker's background is in the performing arts, interactive exhibitions, visual arts and events, primarily as Production Manager or Creative Director. He has worked with the Adelaide Fringe Festival, Moomba, the St Kilda Festival, and major international touring companies. With his company Megafun he has created award winning interactive exhibits for science centres and museums. Tucker delivered the spectacular fish on the Yarra for the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Artist acknowledgment: Leigh Malpas, 3D animation.

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