When the 100 or so business executives teed off at the Jeremy Ranch two weeks ago for the Johnny Miller-Junior Achievement Golf Classic, they each wore a very special identification pin that assured the tournament's 60 officials and volunteers that the players had paid their $200 entry fee for the JA fund-raiser.
This was one ID badge that couldn't be counterfeited - a three-dimensional hologram of the JA logo crossed with two golf clubs.And later, when the golfers strode up to the 17th tee, there was something strangely familiar about the lean, athletic figure standing there swinging a five iron.
Strange, because he was wearing a very odd pair of glasses: the lenses contained startlingly realistic holograms of a woman's heavily mascaraed eyes. Familiar, because the figure turned out to be Miller himself, Utah's best known touring pro.
The goofy glasses worn by Miller and the serious ID badges worn by the participants were products of the same Utah company: Advanced Holographics, with corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City and a 30-employee manufacturing plant in Logan.
Advanced Holographics (AH) is one of only a half dozen or so companies in North America (and perhaps worldwide) that are carving a niche in an industry so new that its members have to design, engineer and construct their plant machinery themselves.
Holograms - or more precisely, dichromated gelatin (DCG) holograms - of the type manufactured by AH are among the seemingly endless spinoffs of laser technology. Like the computer, the argon laser makes the impossible possible.
And holograms are still in their infancy, says Gary Mangum, chief executive officer of AH and one of the four partners who launched the rapidly evolving business two years ago.
So far, Advanced Holographics has concentrated on what company vice president Mark Cornelius terms the "flash and trash" market - funny eyeglasses, wacky wrist watches, unicorn key chains and other 3-D novelties.
Nevertheless, Advanced Holographics expects to do about $2.7 million in sales this year to a roster of some 2,000 retail accounts - including such heavy hitters as Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Toys `R' Us and Woolworth's. From a few dozen last year, the company is currently turning out 10,000 holograms a day.
But novelties are just for openers, says Mangum. The possibilities for "serious" applications of this budding technology seem open-ended.
For example, said Cornelius, passports with a holographic picture of the owner, overlaid with the Great Seal of the United States, would be virtually impossible to forge. "Think how effective this would be in deterring international terrorism if passports could not be faked," he said.
Moreover, a bar code - similar to those now used on most products - could also be contained in the hologram that would quickly process the holder by computer, thus speeding up customs lines while immediately alerting officers if there were any irregularities.
The same process could be used in other applications where security and positive identification are needed.
Most Americans are already carrying holograms around with them on their plastic credit cards - an attempt by banks to cut down on card forgeries. But these are embossed on foil, similar to those appearing recently on breakfast cereal boxes and in magazine ads. They are much easier to fake than DCG holograms, said Mangum, which are embedded in glass or plastic and have more depth and transparency.
Cornelius said the U.S. Treasury is even experimenting with holograms on currency with a view to eliminating counterfeiting. (Jerry Heidt, AH's director of holography, once made a hologram of a $10,000 bill that was copied and sold through The Sharper Image catalog. Although there were no laws against it, the Secret Service decided it was too realistic and confiscated the master.)
Explaining (and understanding) precisely what a dichromated gelatin hologram is takes some doing. Heidt - who is said to be among the foremost practitioners in this obscure field - gave it his best shot, but his idea of simplifying the concept was to explain that it's "a recording of a 3-D wave front on a 2-D matrix."
At that point, Mangum and Cornelius sent for William Bickmore, AH's chief engineer and the man who designed the company's machinery.
Making a hologram is only marginally similar to making a photograph, explained Bickmore. With the latter, you use a camera and lens to make a single discreet image on film. With a hologram, the image is also created on film (coated with dichromated gelatin), but with a hologram no lenses are used and all the images - the equivalent of thousands of photos - are recorded.
Bickmore likens it to a phonograph in which the records are played back by striking them with light. In this case the camera or phonograph is a laser.
"Think of it as a series of very tiny mirrors placed at such angles that when you rotate the object reflected in the mirrors, a different image is created for the eyes," explained Bickmore.
Understand? I don't either. Maybe it's best to simply think of holograms as black magic and let it go at that.
Incidentally, to make a hologram it is necessary to have a three-dimensional object, not a photograph. And holograms are life size; they can neither be enlarged nor made smaller. A hologram of a unicorn's head, for example, must be made from a three-dimensional model or sculpture that is precisely the same size as the head that appears in the hologram.
And don't use the term "optical illusion" with Heidt, it gets him uptight. Unlike, say, 3-D movies in which an illusion of depth is created by "fooling the eye" with polarized glasses, a hologram is truly three-dimensional. The test is whether you can tip the image and see its sides, top and bottom. This is no trick of optics; the images are really there.
Heidt also uses Bickmore's mirror analogy in attempting to explain how a hologram works: "When you look in a mirror, you see an optical reproduction which, by changing the angle, will give you different views. A hologram is the same thing only it is recorded."
A hologram is made by placing a DCG coated glass plate on top of the subject, for instance a small model of a human eye or a cat's head. The laser is turned on and its intense beam passes over the object and is reflected back onto the plate, burning in the holographic image.
So far, for a variety of technical reasons, Advanced Holographics has made its holograms only on glass plates, a process that has kept costs relatively high. The next phase, about to begin production, will be to use plastic. This will drop the price, said Mangum, as well as increase plant capacity. Plastic can be stamped out while glass must be machined.
To this end, AH has formed a new company, Holographic Films, in a joint venture with NRT, a Canadian company, to create plastic holograms.
To begin with, the new company will manufacture children's plastic watches, with holograms on the face, that will sell for under $10. "It's a huge market," said Mangum.