Wednesday, January 21, 2009

History Channel special to bring Lincoln virtually to life

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. In commemoration, The History Channel will be broadcasting a special, "Stealing Lincoln's Body" beginning February 16 at 9 p.m. EST. Many of us are aware of the thwarted attempts to steal and ransom Lincoln's corpse after it was delivered to Springfield, Illinois for burial, but, what caught my attention about this program is it's use of new visual graphics technology to present reenactments using photographs of Lincoln himself, not costumed actors.

[image - Abraham Lincoln at Madame Tussaud's in London, England]

"...the program features moving images of Abraham Lincoln, digitally created from actual historical photographs. For the first time, Lincoln walks and moves according to the historical record. The moving images and some of the stills showcase the first “virtual photography” of Lincoln and the only “virtual motion” pictures of him ever created. Using computer-generated imagery, it illustrates key sections of the story and brings them to life, often with startling effect.

These new photographs and moving images of Lincoln highlight a level of historical detail and information never seen before. Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth, who created these digital effects for STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY, explains the technique began as a kind of experiment using contemporary film technology. It gives the modern audience an opportunity to “gaze upon the noble face of our most beloved president, to see him walk down the street, to see him alive again…. Today’s technology allows us to achieve a level of photographic realism previously unattainable, with the added bonus of motion graphics."

Author and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer , who is interviewed in STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY, says: The result—an uncanny, believable, realistic, living Lincoln—moving before our eyes as he must have in life, wholly imagined yet based on actual photos—took my breath away. Here is the man who lived, laughed, spoke, walked, for precious seconds practically born again.”

Here's a YouTube preview. Pay particular attention to the first few seconds - the animation is seamless!!

I have worked with a product called CrazyTalk by Reallusion to animate the faces of still images of sculptures of people from long ago and this Christmas I even used it to create an animation of my late father calling one last square dance for my other family members as a OOAK Christmas gift. I'm presently working on a project to combine such animation with artificial intelligence to enable website visitors to virtually "talk" to historical personalities using the historical sculptures of George Stuart.

So I am anxious to see how similar software can be used to create full length animation and virtual photographic reenactment.

The program's focus:

"After lying in state at the White House and at the Capitol (the nation’s first presidential state funeral), Lincoln’s body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession through several states and nearly two thousand miles, arriving in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois on May 4. However, his final burial would not take place until 1901, thirty six years later.

Before Lincoln finally came to rest in a steel-and-concrete-reinforced underground vault in Springfield , the President’s body was repeatedly exhumed and moved, his coffin frequently opened.

In 1876, 11 years after Lincoln 's assassination, a band of Chicago counterfeiters devised a fantastic plot to steal Lincoln ’s body and hold it for ransom. They wanted $200,000 and the release of the gang's master engraver who was in prison in Illinois . The Secret Service – recently formed to deal with the country's ballooning counterfeiting problem – infiltrated the gang with an informer. Yet it also set in motion a cringe-inducing chain of events in which a group of well-intentioned, self-appointed guardians took it upon themselves to protect Lincoln ’s remains by any means necessary.

Some efforts to protect the remains of the 16th President of the United States would prove to be equally misguided and macabre. Finally, in 1901, thirty six years after Lincoln ’s assassination, Robert Todd Lincoln had the body of his father interred in a massive concrete vault. The contrast between the nation’s reverence for Abraham Lincoln and the shocking manner in which his body had been treated is striking. This strange story of Lincoln at un-rest reveals how important this man was to so many, and perhaps our reluctance to let such a beloved and visionary leader go."

Teacher and student contests, original short form video about Lincoln ’s life and Presidency, related lesson plans, as well as instructions for how to donate to this campaign will be available online at .

STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY was produced for The HISTORY Channel by Left/Right. Productions.
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