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February 7, 2013

Shoah Foundation Produces Holograms Of Nazi Survivors


Associated Press

Los Angeles (AP) For years, Holocaust survivor Pinchus Gutter has told the tragic story of watching his parents and 10-year-old twin sister herded into a Nazi death camp’s gas chambers so quickly that he had no time to even say goodbye.

He was left instead with an enduring image he has carried with him through 70 years: that of his sister vanishing into a sea of people doomed to die.

Only this time the elderly, balding man wasn’t really there as he recounted the horror of the Holocaust to an audience gathered in an auditorium at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.

It was the 80-year-old survivor’s digital doppelganger, dressed in a white shirt, dark pants and matching vest, that was doing the talking as it gazed intently at its audience, sometimes tapping its feet as it paused to consider a question.

Over the years, elderly Holocaust survivors like Gutter have been leaving behind manuscripts and oral histories of their lives, fearful that once they are gone there will be no one to explain the horror they lived through or to challenge the accounts of Holocaust deniers like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

For the past 18 months, a group led by USC’s Shoah Foundation has been trying to change that by creating three-dimensional holograms of nearly a dozen people who survived Nazi Germany’s systematic extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II.

Hologram of survivor (Courtesy of USC)

Like the digital librarian portrayed by Orlando Jones in the 2002 movie ``The Time Machine,’’ the plan is for Gutter and the others to live on in perpetuity, telling generations not born yet the horror they witnessed and offering their thoughts on how to avoid having one of history’s darkest moments repeated.

Although people at this week’s event saw Gutter as only a two-dimensional figure, he has been painstakingly filmed for hours in 3-D and, perhaps as early as next year according to those involved in the project, his hologram could be talking face-to-face with visitors at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Certainly it will be within five years, said Stephen Smith, the Shoah Foundation’s executive director, and Paul Debevec, associate director of the university’s Institute for Creative Technologies, which is creating the hologram project’s infrastructure.

``Having actually put it together, it’s clear this will happen,’’ said Debevec, whose institute has partnered with Hollywood on such films as ``Avatar’’ and ``The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’’ winning a special Academy Award for the latter.

``This takes it one step further as far as you won’t be projecting onto a screen, you’ll be projecting into space,’’ Smith said of the project, called New Dimensions in Testimony.

It comes just in time, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is dedicated to keeping alive the history of the Holocaust.

``This generation is coming to an end, unfortunately,’’ Hier said of Holocaust survivors, whose average age is estimated at 79. ``Within the next decade or so there won’t be many survivors alive anywhere in the world.’’

Given the prominence of Holocaust deniers like Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Hier said, it’s crucial to record survivors’ accounts in a way that future generations can easily access and relate to.

``The Holocaust is well documented, and we have confessions of the major war criminals,’’ he said. ``But there’s nothing like the human witness who can look you in the eye and say, `Look, this is what happened to my husband. This is what happened to my children. This is what happened to my grandparents.’’’

Developing a technology capable of that has been painstakingly time consuming. But in the past two years, researchers say, it has come together faster than they once imagined.

To help in the effort, Gutter had to sit under an array of hot stage lights and in front of a green screen for hours at a time over the course of five days, answering some 500 questions about himself and his experiences.

Research scientists at USC are still editing them and working with voice-recognition software so that his hologram will not only be able to tell his story but recognize questions and answer them succinctly. Being able to do that often required asking as many as 50 follow-up questions to one of the original ones, Smith said.

While researchers have found there is generally a range of about 100 questions people ask survivors of the Holocaust, if someone in the future comes up with one Gutter’s hologram can’t answer, it will simply say so and refer them to someone who might know.

For the demonstration shown this week, he sat before seven cameras. For the final hologram, more than 20 will be placed at every angle possible, so he will appear to people standing or sitting anywhere in the audience just as he would if he was really there.
No pepper screen will be used to display his hologram, as was the case with Shakur. Instead, it will be broadcast into open space, allowing people to approach and interact with the hologram just as they would a real person.

Eventually, according to Debevec and other researchers, holograms could come to have numerous uses. Among them would be teaching classes, taking part in business conferences and providing expert opinion on subjects when real people can’t be there to do so. They could even be used as teaching tools for people studying to become therapists who aren’t quite ready to work with a real, emotionally troubled person.

For now, however, researchers are working strictly with Holocaust survivors, creating a list of nine other people with the help of the private group Conscience Display, which records survivors’ stories and suggested the project.

Given that every person interviewed has been 80 or older, Smith said, it may prove difficult to find subjects with the stamina to participate. Still, no one approached so far has said no to the idea.

Perhaps Gutter’s digital presence summed up the reason for that best when it was asked the other day why he chose to take part.

It replied: ``I tell my story for the purpose of improving humanity.’’

Museum Mounts Exhibit Of Ice Age Masterpieces


Associated Press

London (AP) The art world loves hype. Works are touted as the biggest, the rarest, the most expensive.

Even in an age of superlatives, the British Museum has something special—the oldest known figurative art in the world. The artworks on display in the new exhibition ``Ice Age Art’’ are so old that many are carved from the tusks of woolly mammoths.

But it’s not just their age that may surprise visitors. It’s their artistry.

These are artworks, not just prehistoric artifacts. Some of the sophisticated carvings, sculptures and drawings of people and animals look like something Pablo Picasso or Henry Moore might have created.

That shock of recognition is the aim of the show, which is subtitled ``arrival of the modern mind’’ and explores the moment the human brain began to embrace abstraction, symbolism and imagination. We don’t know what these distant ancestors believed or how they communicated, but we know how they thought—like us.

``They are fully modern humans,’’ Jill Cook, the museum’s curator of Paleolithic exhibitions, said Tuesday. ``What these works of art show is that they have a visual brain capable of imagination and creativity.

``They really are us. They are our ancestors.’’

Although early humans were making sophisticated tools, abstract items and music in southern Africa 100,000 years ago, the earliest surviving works representing people and animals appear after groups of people moved into eastern and central Europe some 45,000 years ago.

The plentiful wildlife roaming the grassy plains helped these communities of hunter-gatherers grow and flourish.

``The living was quite easy,’’ Cook said. Then, some 40,000 years ago, the weather took a change for the icy. Suddenly, humans were struggling for survival, and this seems to have brought a surge of creativity.

Cook said that ``faced with increasingly difficult conditions, finding the courage to go on’’ required of early humans ``a fixing on things outside the human,’’ the spiritual, perhaps.’’

From its own collection and others across Europe, the museum has gathered artworks, made between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, that reveal a world vastly different from ours. Few are made from wood, a precious commodity during the Ice Age that had to be hoarded for fuel. They are made from bones, tusks and antlers, and sometimes rocks or clay. They depict animals that are now rare or extinct—mammoths, bison, lions, wolverines.

And yet, as art, they are instantly recognizable and remarkably sophisticated.

They play with ideas like perspective and scale, toy with abstraction and capture movement. Some of the animals show strength and grace: a delicate yet powerful bison, a mammoth poised to charge, a delicate carving of two reindeer swimming.

Ice Age artists could depict imaginary creatures, such as the man with a lion’s head found in a cave in Germany and created 40,000 years ago. They made musical instruments; there are flutes carved from swan bones and ivory. The works are displayed alongside pieces by modern artists, including Henri Matisse, whose drawing of a voluptuous nude hangs near a plump female ceramic figure, and Henry Moore, whose rounded abstract sculptures can appear timeless and elemental.

Cook said the modern works are there partly to reassure visitors that this is an exhibition of art and not just archaeological artifacts, ``You can look at them without being intimidated.’’

There is also a more direct link. Some 20th-century modernists drew inspiration from the bold abstraction of ancient artworks. The exhibition includes many depictions of female figures, from girlish youths to pregnant women to mature matrons. Were they carved by men or, as Cook speculates, created ``by women for women’’? Many are realistic about large hips and bellies, and show an image of the female body Cook likens to the ``does my bum look big in this’’ view in the dressing room mirror.

There’s also a 27,000-year-old puppet discovered in what is now the Czech Republic, possibly used in some shamanistic ritual, though it’s hard to be certain. Tools and cave walls were inscribed with a form of calligraphy which we can’t read.

And while Cook says these pieces are, ``as far as we know, the oldest figurative art in the world,’’ many ancient mysteries remain.

``Discoveries tomorrow might change that,’’ she said. ``And that would be fantastic.’’

``Ice Age Art’’ opens Thursday and runs to May 26.


Family Restores Rare Airplane After ‘Coyote Chase’ Crash


The (Kankakee) Daily Journal

Kankanee, IL (AP) A tale involving aeronautical history and mechanical ingenuity might be expected at the Kankakee airfield that is home to the 86-year-old Koerner Aviation business.

It’s also predictable that the central characters in that story would be ancestors of the aviation pioneers who first brought flying machines to this area.

In the latest story unfolding these days, 24-year-old Alex Koerner is getting noticed, along with his newly restored Luscombe 8C, a rare plane that first rolled out of the factory June 28, 1941.

A brand new Luscombe 8C Silveraire in 1941

``Back in its day the airplane was first of its kind,’’ Koerner said. ``It featured all-metal construction, except for the wings that are fabric covered. That was a departure from the conventional tube and fabric construction of the day.

``This was the deluxe model, dubbed the Silvaire,’’ he added. ``It came with an art deco-style instrument panel, full leather interior, a fancy red stripe on the wings and fuselage, one-of-a-kind, all-metal wheel fenders, and a fuel-injected 75-horsepower engine.

``It could easily cruise at over 100 mph and burn only about 5 gallons of fuel an hour. It was priced at $2,495.’’

But this particular airplane was a long way from the factory when Alex and his father, Steve, discovered it. It was in pieces. According to the story the Koerners were told, the plane was first used at a flight school but wound up with a pair of hunters who used it in an ill-fated coyote chase.

``One of them flew the airplane while the other sat with his shotgun sticking out the window,’’ Alex related. ``While flying low to the ground, trying to shoot coyotes, both men got distracted, and the airplane crashed into some trees.

``The men survived, but the airplane didn’t,’’ Alex explained.

The plane was recovered, then disassembled and hung in a barn. Years later, it was sold and moved. Parts became separated. The engine was sent to a scrap yard. And the wings were once again hung up to wait for an owner capable of putting this puzzle together.

A Luscombe Silveraire interior under restoration

In 1991, a friend of the Koerner family purchased the plane pieces. As a professional aircraft restorer, he knew the rarity of the 8C: Only 260 models were ever produced. He scoured the nation for the parts that were missing and even found the factory-original engine, still at the very same scrap yard.

With that owner’s retirement, he decided that he was willing to pass the project on to a younger man. And Alex was that guy.

``My father and I looked at it, and we knew we had to have it,’’ Alex said, referring to that fateful encounter in Naperville, in November 2007.

``We picked it up and brought it to its new and final home,’’ he said, still shaking his head over the sight of boxes full of parts and a sense of being overwhelmed by the task.

``We worked on it whenever we had free time. It was always a three-step project: Forward one step, then back two. We ended up putting new metal skin on three-quarters of the fuselage and tail. We completely rebuilt and recovered the wings.

``We Installed long-range, wing fuel tanks: The original tank sat right behind the pilot’s head in the fuselage,’’ he continued. ``And we refinished the instrument panel to factory original.’’

The accident left the cowling-the nose of the fuselagflattened and twisted. The Koerners had to bring in a very talented metalworker to handcraft a brand new cowling, that now looks as good, or maybe a little better, than the original. The final steps were polishing the aluminum skin to a high gloss and painting the red stripe on it.

After a series of tests, Alex’s pet project was ready to fly last summer. It would be its first flight in 61 years.

``The airplane performed like it couldn’t wait to break the surly bonds of earth and jump into the sky,’’ he said, quickly noting that he’s now looking forward to a full season of showing off this piece of aviation history.

``After four years of work on that plane, I realized on that first flight that every hour was completely worth it,’’ he said.





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