Rob Munday’s holograms: where art and science meet

Naturalium 3, part of a series. Munday takes inspiration from “the ever stranger findings of quantum physics that postulates, amongst other things, that all matter is composed of pure energy and the entire universe is a hologram.” Taken on a Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro lens, and Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L USM Macro lens. © Rob Munday / courtesy of The Little Black Gallery

Rob Munday passed a London photography gallery in 1981. A glint of light caught his eye. Inside the gallery, he saw one of the first true holograms ever made. “I was immediately smitten,” says Rob, “realising that holography was the perfect blend of science and art, I knew from that moment that I would spend the rest of my life making holograms.”

Rob graduated with BA (Hons) in scientific and technical graphics in 1983 and took a job with holography pioneers and artists Edwina Orr and David Traynor, at one of the UK’s first-ever hologram studios. He helped establish the Holography Department of the Royal College of Art, which was the first of its kind in the world, before leaving to concentrate on creating his own holographic studio.

Since then, he has become widely recognised as the world’s leading holographic artist, making the space between art and science his own. Munday’s subjects have included everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Liam Gallagher. In 2003, he co-created the first official holographic portrait of the Queen. A decade later, in another first, he made a 24-carat gold holographic portrait miniature – inventing a brand new portrait medium in the process.

A hologram, Munday says, has lately come to mean almost any kind of 3D image, so he has started using the term ‘true hologram’. This describes a photograph of a light field, or interference pattern, rather than an image formed by a lens, which, when properly lit, results in a 3D image which can be seen by the naked eye. A photograph can only capture a limited amount of information, but true holography can “record and reproduce all the properties of the light emanating from the real world.” Here, we find out more about this unique medium from the master himself...

In 2016, Munday was commissioned to create a large format, 3D portrait of Angelina Jolie for a perfume launch. He collaborated with photographer Willy Camden who oversaw lighting and retouching. Taken on Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 70-200mm f.2.8L USM lens. Angelina Jolie for Guerlain. Picture: Rob Munday with Willy Camden © Anton & Partners / Guerlain
Munday created a portrait of fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld for magazine AnOther and Chanel in 2015. It appeared in the magazine’s 15th anniversary issue and Chanel gave a large format copy of the image to Lagerfeld himself. Shot on a Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM lens. © Rob Munday / Karl Lagerfeld

Where do you work and what kind of routine do you keep?

“I have a permanent studio at my house in South West France, both to shoot true holograms and lenticular images (another printed image with an illusion of 3D), and an office at the fabulous Twickenham Film Studios in London. When I conduct high-profile shoots in London or elsewhere, such as the recent shoot of Angelina Jolie in Hollywood, I hire a convenient studio and move my dedicated equipment and cameras to it. By comparison, when in France, I have the luxury of shooting at my leisure. The flowers for my new series were both grown and shot at my home in France. Life seems too short for a routine and there’s simply far too much to do and to achieve. I’m 59 now, but feel that I’ve only just begun.”

Can you take us through your process?

“Lenticular images are made using a parallax image sequence. In other words, a sequence of photographs is taken from slightly different points of view around the subject or scene, to later be fed into a computer and made into an image that can be read as a 3D photograph. The initial step is achieved in a number of ways, but my preference is to move a camera under computer control along a linear rail, taking a picture every 10mm or so, with the camera rotating so it keeps pointing towards the centre of the subject.”

“In 2003, I designed and built the VIP system (Video Images with Parallax) specifically to record a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen. A conventional camera sits upon a rotary stage, which is itself placed on top of a two-metre-long motorised linear rail. This enables the camera to be translated smoothly at high speed and with extreme accuracy under computer control.”

“The system currently works with any Canon DSLR, but my current camera of choice is the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II. At 16fps, the 1DX Mark II enables a sequence of 50 RAW and jpeg images to be shot in just over three seconds. This is particularly important for portraits. As soon as the image sequence has been shot, it is automatically downloaded to a computer hard drive and a 3D image is presented on a large format 3D TV for viewing.”

“Post-production includes retouching and, using special custom software, correction of the various distortions inherent in parallax image sequences. Once the sequence is processed the images are combined or interlaced, again using special software, to create one single image, which is printed. The resulting print is then laminated in register to the back of a matching lenticular lens to provide the finished 3D image. There are many websites that describe this process in far more detail than I can do here, but the technique is not difficult to master and great results can be achieved.”

A behind-the-scenes shot shows part of the process of making a lenticular image, in which multiple images are taken from different angles in order to build together a 3D image, or “light sculpture.”

How much planning goes into an image?

“The process of creating 3D images – light sculptures, as I prefer to call them – is fundamentally different from 2D photography even though, as in the case of lenticular imaging, photography is an integral part of the process. It is far less immediate and requires much greater planning. Certain parameters are fixed, such as the distance of the camera from the subject and thus the focal length of the lens used. This can sometimes limit the types of images shot and the medium used. Lenticular imaging or true holography, on the other hand, dictates the amount of sharp depth it’s possible to display. 3D imaging of this kind has more in common with sculpture than photography. And, as with traditional sculpture, you must first carefully consider the dimensionality of the subject.”

What is the difference between hologram and a lenticular image?

“At this point, and despite so far speaking about true holography, I have to say that I have not used true holography for most of my more recent work, including my new flower series. Instead, I have used the latest lenticular imaging techniques. True holography is a highly complex and expensive process and, despite its fundamental ability to reproduce optical reality, it can be quite limited in other ways. Many practitioners of true holography have therefore, over recent years, gravitated towards lenticular imaging. Being a stereo-photographic process, it is far simpler and cheaper. While lenticular images cannot reproduce reality as effectively as true holograms, they are nonetheless very convincing if made correctly.”

Naturalium 5, part of a series. Munday takes inspiration from “the ever stranger findings of quantum physics which postulates, amongst other things, that all matter is composed of pure energy and that the entire universe is a hologram.” Shot Canon 5D Mark II with Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L USM Macro lens. © Rob Munday / courtesy of The Little Black Gallery
Naturalium 3, part of a series. Munday is interested in the metaphysical nature of reality, with his work aiming to “extrapolate the essence of objects and entities, portraying them larger than life and rendering them sculpturally using the pure energy of light.” Shot Canon 5D Mark II with Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L USM Macro lens. © Rob Munday / courtesy of The Little Black Gallery

How can we have a go at 3D imaging?

“By far the simplest way is to make lenticular images. Lenticular lenses can be purchased from a variety of companies. A sequence of images can be shot with a simple turntable, which is equivalent to moving a camera around a subject. Simply place a camera on a tripod and rotate the subject, taking a picture every degree or so.”

To find out more about the EOS-1D X Mark II, check out the product page.

Autors Gary Evans

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