Target's Holograms: The Innovation Angle

Posted by: Reena Jana on October 30, 2007

On Wednesday, big-box retailer Target will begin running ads about the world’s first “model-less” fashion show in New York on November 6 and 7, featuring a holographic illusion of three-dimensional, disembodied clothes. Yes, the Wall Street Journal reported this yesterday in an advertising story; what the Journal didn’t report is an innovation story on the technology behind the event and how it might save on fashion-show costs or be applied in other settings as a corporate communication or retail tool. I spoke with James Rock, a director of Musion Systems Limited, the maker of the hologram system used, on these topics. And I also chatted with fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi and long-time Target brand name, whose clothes will be featured alongside those of a number of high-profile designers creating exclusive “masstige” lines for Target this season.

First, let’s take a look at one of Target’s behind-the-scenes concept sketches for the fashion show, which will be staged at Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, projected on a stage every ten minutes on November 6 from 12:00 p.m. until 12:00 a.m., and November 7 from 6:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.:

target_casper_1516_rev.jpg

And here’s a glimpse of what this concept will look like at the Target fashion show:

WEDDING 0001.jpg

The holographic effect used, from Musion, isn’t new—Richard Branson used it to address a conference in 2005. Here’s some YouTube video of the event:

You’ll see the hologram is eerily real, and it gives you a sense of what the Target experience might be like. According to Rock of Musion, the technology is based on an old-school magic trick from the 19th century, involving glass mirrors and reflections. The updated system involves giant foil screens instead of glass, and videotaping models whose images are projected against the foil, in High Definition. Their bodies are then edited out of the video. At the event, the taped images will be projected in front of live audience.

Rock won’t disclose the cost of the Target project, although he said it took about 10-12 weeks to develop on the Musion side, but that smaller holographic productions can take as little as 3-4 hours to produce or up to 3-4 years, depending on complexity. “Every project is bespoke,” Rock says. So far, the tech is favored by car-makers: BMW, Land Rover, GM, and Honda have used Musion holograms at trade events. Fiat used it at a product launch this year in Italy, showing off a customizable car at a public event in which consumers customized a car on a computer, and then this car was then transformed into a hologram before their eyes. In other words, they could see in 3D and in life-sized proportions, their custom car, in the colors they chose, with the features they chose, rather than merely on a flat computer monitor.

But other types of companies have used it as well to showcase products – General Electric and Adidas, for example.

Rock foresees the technology as a potential way of conducting business meetings, the next step beyond sophisticated video conferencing such as HP’s Halo system. Holograms provide an even more realistic presence for remote workers at meetings than a flat, ultra-high-resolution screen.

Isaac Mizrahi, the fashion designer, told me he thinks that the holograms might evolve into an innovative retail feature. “I keep thinking, wouldn’t it be great to go into a dressing room and see how clothes might fit without having to putting them on?” He says, adding that perhaps stores might feature 3D holograms for customers to see on body types that match their own. “I think there are so many ways this technology will advance and help fashion develop.”

Mizrahi also feels that the continuous, every-ten-minutes public fashion show “democratizes fashion even further,” he says, referring to Target’s famous design-for-all strategy. “The show gives Target guests—which is what the company calls customers--put themselves in the clothes.”

Laura Sandall, Target's director of events marketing and publicity, also says that the holographic show is “cost effective.” A typical fashion show, she says, costs about $200,000 to produce. And, if you’ve ever been to one, you know that they only last about 15 minutes. The Model-less shows on November 6 and 7 will be shown 144 times, says Sandall.

“We expect 750,000 people to pass through Vanderbilt Hall. We will hit over a million people each day,” Sandall says. “And then it will live online, on Target.com, Facebook, and YouTube.” The goal is to spread the video virally, too.

We have about a week until the Model-less show debuts. It will be interesting to see how the public responds. And how Target responds, as the company now has pressure to “best itself,” as Sandall says, after staging this spectacle that just might inspire some innovative new uses of holograms and holographic technologies.

Reader Comments

Adamo

November 1, 2007 8:41 PM

Just wait a few more years when it gets better. Bet your bottom dollar there'll be a projection of Jesus, in his so called 'second coming'. The fundamentalist Christians would love it since they just can't wait to be saved! LOL.

On an ethical note, I'm actually not against using this technology. In fact I'm all for the useful applications such as safer and faster 3D product design. It'd be great for bridging the gap between communities such as using holographic video phones like a 3D webcam so they can see them as close as if they were standing across from them.

Very74

November 7, 2007 5:17 AM

The technology was put top spectacular effect by Diesel earlier in the year, where they had real models interact with hologrpaphic models as well as holographic creatures that brought to life the underwater theme of their collection. Check out the video of the show on YouTube, which was far more impressive in my opinion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCcTRjxP-Fc

Read more here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCcTRjxP-Fc

alexandre van de sande

November 7, 2007 7:57 AM

I hate when media throws the word "hologram" around like that. From what I could understand this is NOT a 3D representation of something that stands in mid air, as we expect from science fiction, but a illusion trick so you see a video looking just as if it was projected in mid air, but it´s not.

In the end a fashion show it will look a lot like seeing models on a big screen TV. Just you won't see the screen.

WiseUp

November 7, 2007 7:40 PM

Oh for Christ's sake, stop playing into this company's hype and calling this special effect a hologram! A hologram is a very specific sort of film image generated with lasers, which this is not. The illusion Musion is doing here is literally one of the oldest tricks in the book, called "Pepper's Ghost." It's how Disney has been doing the dancing ghosts in the ballroom of the Haunted Mansion since the 60s. You can read more about it on wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepper's_Ghost

How can you report on something and have utterly no clue what you're actually talking about? Starlingly lame.

Reena Jana

November 8, 2007 4:06 PM

Thanks for the comments and discussion. Actually, we refer to the system at the beginning as a "holographic illusion." The point of the post was to discuss fresh uses of the illusion, reveal who created this effect for Target (not mentioned in the Journal coverage), and not to make a claim that this was utterly new technology or to focus on the correctness of Target's and Musion's terminology. We generally don't fact-check using Wikipedia, but I did make a reference to the 19th-century trick. But thanks for opening up the debate on proper usage of "hologram."

subhasish

October 4, 2008 11:19 AM

i am a engineering student from india..we are planning to have a holographic show like this during our international tech fest(which we organise)..please give me contacts of some people who organise these things

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What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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