In 1979, Jim and Arlene Stefani began making film slides for movie theaters. They were responsible for the commercials watched before waiting for the film to start. Before powerpoint made its way into the world, the Stefanis were creating slide productions for corporations. They were excited by creating memorable moments for business meetings, providing audio, video, and lighting throughout North America with their company, Multi Image Group.
Today, the company is a woman-owned, family-run production company that houses two brands, AV Rental Depot being the second, 140 full time employees, an 80k square foot building, three silent stages, touring, and fabrication. Their vertical markets include tech, banking, pharmaceuticals, education, sports, live event productions, and much more.
In 2020, slide shows are a relic of the past, but Multi Image Group is still wowing their clients, now with cutting edge hologram technology. In order to get a better grasp on how it all works, Oz sat down with AV Rental Depot’s General Manager of the rental and sales division, James Cullen.
Cullen first asked what I already know about hologram technology. I recollected the moment when the late Tupac Shakur made a post-mortem appearance at the Coachella music festival in 2012.
“The difference between digital signage being a flat panel display in a lobby or terminal at an airport, is that people just walk by it constantly and rarely look at it. It’s commonplace. A hologram stops people. They stop and wonder, ‘How are they doing this?’”
“That’s done in a large environment with a lot of square footage and an audience participating and having a point of view. Then there is a very minimized form factor with the same formula of bending light in a more TV sized type of installation,” Cullen explained.
In the late 1860s, John Henry Pepper pioneered the hologram effect. He installed large glass screens in theaters, set them at an angle, and they would catch the reflection from a brightly lit actor in an area hidden from the audience. Without noticing the glass screen, audience members would mistakenly perceive the reflection as a ghostly figure located amongst the actors performing on the main stage.
“Pepper’s ghost is the discovery of how to bend light and create a holographic effect,” Cullen added. “There used to be a display in Epcot with a talking head. Basically, it was a video monitor facing up and then a 45 degree angled piece of glass. Your point of view is looking straight through the glass. The mirror bends the light and the point of view at 90 degrees, giving the optical illusion of a floating head.”
Why integrate this technology into corporate trade shows as well as traditional establishments? Dwell time is key. “The difference between digital signage being a flat panel display in a lobby or terminal at an airport, is that people just walk by it constantly and rarely look at it. It’s commonplace. A hologram stops people. They stop and wonder, ‘How are they doing this?’”
“The video can move around and show different sides of an object, because it’s a 3D rendered graphic,” Cullen described. Cullen gives the example of a glass bottle or an aluminum can. “You are laying a graphic over [the container] which is a moving video, and then, from the point of view that you are looking at it, it’s literally mapped onto the product. So you are making something that people can watch or choose a flavor for, for instance. Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite [laughs], an aluminum can is endless.”
Multi Image Group and AV Rental Depot are working internationally with other companies to wow their clients and the prospective customers of their clients. “We partnered with a company in Copenhagen, Realfiction, that are great partners of ours and we sell their product exclusively in North America,” Cullen said. “They are basically point in sale and digital signage holographic installations. We can ship them, put them in trade show booths, put them in jewelry store windows, and it’s the same light bending formula, but in a small form factor.” Bending light is just the beginning, one can only imagine the endless possibilities Multi Image Group has yet to offer for live, virtual, and hybrid events.