Thursday, March 15, 2007


Leopold died of cancer in 2001

Prince Claus died in 2003 following many years of illness

Queen Beatrix abdicated in favour of her son, Willem-Alexander on April 30 2013 after 33 years on the  Dutch throne.

Peter still lives and works in San Francisco although not in holography anymore

Lange Voorhout ceased being a residence of the Queen in 1980 and is now used as a museum

The Company is no longer supposed to be trading but as it was always more a state of mind rather than a commercial entity, it might be better to describe it as dormant.

In 1995, after 20 years’ worth of adventures pioneering, producing, marketing and generally evangelizing holography, I closed the door and turned out the lights on my last holography business.

10. Mission accomplished

On leaving the Palace, Leopold and I went our separate ways - he to find someone to breathe life back into his car and I to take a taxi over to Hoek van Holland, the port that lies next to the city of The Hague where I had planned to take a ferry over to England.

An hour or two after leaving Lange Voorhout, I stood out on deck as the ferry pulled away from the Dutch coast. It was a beautiful evening.
I reflected on the whole adventure from Leopold’s first telephone call to the last sight of Beatrix as she disappeared into that next reception room.

The mission had been accomplished. Despite the dramas, the hiccups, the problems that seemed insurmountable and the times when a miracle appeared to be the only feasible solution, despite all that, Beatrix got her holographic portrait.

And in a few days, or a few weeks or months, I thought, men in brown overalls would come from the Royal Vaults with instructions to crate up our holographic display and put a number on the side and place it in storage with the hundreds and thousands of other Coronation gifts Beatrix had received.
And, perhaps, some 50 or 100 years from now, someone would discover that crate, open it up and find an ancient hologram of Queen Beatrix, the last Dutch queen of the 20th century. But how it had gotten there and who had made it and why it had been made, those questions would remain shrouded in mystery because the true history of that hologram has only ever been written once and it lies here within these pages and nowhere else.

As Holland disappeared below the horizon, I noticed that the people standing next to me on deck were looking at me a little strangely. I don’t know how long I had been smiling to myself but I think it was quite a while.

9. Presenting the hologram

He led us into a beautifully decorated reception room where we were greeted by a rather grey-looking director of the Polygoon Journaal – the film company that had shot the original film for us at the Houses of Parliament. He was almost speechless with relief we had made it on time, no doubt thankful he had avoided the inconvenience of meeting the Queen without the portrait.

In an adjoining room, we could hear another group making a presentation to the Queen, first a single voice, then lots of clapping, followed by lots of shoe shuffling. Time was short. I manoeuvred Leopold with the display over to a corner where I had seen an electricity outlet. I heard the footsteps getting closer to the large sliding doors.

And then everything seemed to go into slow motion, As I picked up the plug of the display and moved towards the outlet, I recalled how many times our light sources had failed especially when the displays had been subjected to lots of movement. Now here was a display that had been transported from one car to another and had been carried aloft through the streets of the Hague. As the plug got closer to the outlet, I thought, “Don’t fail me, not now, not after what we have been through to get here”. As the pins of the plug entered the outlet, my eyes turned upwards towards the opening of the display where the hologram had been placed and where the light had to shine through.

It will work, it must work….. It did work!

The doors opened and Princess Beatrix – now Queen Beatrix entered with Prince Claus.
Beatrix was mildly bemused by the finished result. She expressed controlled appreciation for our efforts. But that sense of spontaneous humour I had experienced 3-4 months before, was gone. I surmised that there can be no room for such things in royal etiquette. Royal environments are controlled environments that are not designed to accommodate easily the unexpected, the improvised or the unrehearsed. Beatrix’s regal stature now reflected that. Claus, on the other hand, was still Claus and was fascinated and curious to know how the hologram had been made. I avoided the lurid street level details I had experienced in San Francisco but gave him the more interesting technical explanation.

In 10 minutes or so Beatrix, Claus and the Entourage moved off to another reception room to be presented with another Coronation gift and we were left with our coffee and cookies.

8. Ten minutes to go

If there was to be a solution, it was no longer to be found in this car. I looked down the road and spotted a taxi stand by the local railway station. I jumped out, leaving Leopold still trying to re-animate his dead vehicle. I ran across the oncoming traffic and down the road. The taxi driver was completely bewildered when I told him I wanted a ride to Leopold’s car 50 meters away. He pulled up beside Leopold. I transferred the hologram display to the back of the taxi as Leopold pushed his car off to the side of the road. It was 14.50. We had 10 minutes.

I told the taxi driver that we needed to get to Lange Voorhout for 15.00. He gave a wry smile. I don’t think so, he said. It’s Horse Week. It’s Horse Week. I had no idea what he was talking about.

Palace on Lange Voorhout
Well, he explained, for most of the year, Lange Voorhout is quite accessible but this particular week – Horse Week - the whole area is closed off for special events and market stalls selling horse-related equipment. If we had yet still not gathered the significance of this fact, he added, “there are thousands of people in the square right now.”
As if to prove his point, he turned a corner and we were confronted with a wall of horse-loving people milling around scores of shops selling saddles and boots and hats and stirrups. “Lange Voorhout is over there” he said, pointing some distance away over the heads of the throngs. “This is as far as I can go”.

We climbed out. Leopold took the display and carried it above his head as I pushed through the mass of people, repeating incessantly “Excuse me. Coming through”.

It seemed to take forever but we made progress centimetre by centimetre. And then there was no more people in front of us, just a long red carpet leading up to a large impressive door. A policeman came forward and asked what we were doing. Leopold, still with the holographic display above his head urged me to take the invitation out of his inside pocket.

I presented it to the policeman who seemed suitably impressed and led us through the cordon and up the steps to the front door. He even rang the bell for us.

The door opened and a butler stood there staring at us. “Can I help you?” he asked. “Yes.”I answered ”We have an appointment with Her Majesty at 15.00” as I pushed the Invitation towards him.
“Please come in” he replied. It was 14.59. Honestly.

7. Invitation from a Queen

Just a few days after returning to the Netherlands with the hologram, Beatrix was duly crowned Queen - on April 30 1980.

A week or so later, Leopold and I received an invitation to present ourselves and our three dimensional masterpiece to the Queen at the Palace Lange Voorhout in the Hague. We met a few weeks before the event and discussed how we would present the hologram. Leopold agreed to get his students at the Technical University to make the display – a half cylinder about 180 cms high with a large hole in it where the hologram would be placed. At the base of the cylinder their would be a tiny halogen light source for illumination.

From time to time over those weeks, I checked with him to make sure that the display was on schedule. Everything appeared to be OK. The night before the event, he called to say everything was ready. He just needed to paint the display and told me he had decided to use that special paint that gives a hammered metal effect.

The following morning I took the hologram over to the University workshop where the display had been constructed. Leopold looked somewhat uncomfortable. “We have a little problem,” he said quietly. “The paint is not dry”. “I thought it was quick drying paint, “ he went on “ but it’s actually supposed to take 24 hours.” I walked over to the newly painted display and tested it with my finger. The fingerprint test said enough. I checked the time. It was 11.00 . Our appointment at the Palace was 15.00.

Many times, I had used in the past, the sarcastic phrase, it’s more interesting to watch paint dry than…..
Now it really was true.

Over the next few hours, I literally watched that paint dry. The clock crawled closer and closer towards the Last Moment of Departure. By 13.00, there were no fingerprints any more, still not dry but getting close. Just a little longer. 13.15, I placed the hologram in the display and tried the light. OK. Just a little longer. 13.30. We needed to go. It was normally at least an hour and a half to the Hague. We eased the still-drying display gently into the back seat of Leopold’s car and raced off down the highway.

I thought Leopold was the luckiest man in Holland that day. He travelled nearly all the way at 150 km per hour and should have got enough speeding tickets to ban him for the following three years. We got off the highway at the edge of the city at 14.45. It looked as though things were moving our way.
As we came to the end of the highway we stopped at the traffic lights. When they turned green, the rest of the traffic moved away and we stood absolutely still! The engine had cut out and was refusing to re-start. I stared at Leopold and he back at me. There are no words to speak at that moment. We were gripped in a state of terror. He tried and tried to get that engine working again but it was refusing to even cough or splutter. It was dead.

6. Last chance

I returned to the hotel to hear that I had had a call from the Netherlands, from Leopold in Eindhoven. He wanted to know, no doubt, how the project was progressing, I thought. I pre-formulated a few positive responses and called him back. What I heard shook me to my bones. Great news, said a very excited Leopold. Queen Juliana has announced her abdication. The hologram you are making of Princess Beatrix, he said, will soon be a hologram of the Queen. Get back as soon as you can with the hologram, he urged, and with that the line went dead.

I sunk down onto the bed, this can’t be happening, I moaned. Just when you thought things could not possibly get worse, Fate conspires to show you, you were wrong again. I finally fell off to sleep but not before I dreamt of falling into a big black hole. Deep sleep relieved me of any further discomfort.

Whatever took place in my subconscious that night I will probably never know but when I awoke I was ready to face my fate. Calm I was, relaxed……, well, that’s probably pushing it but if there was no acceptable hologram, then so be it.

Peter was beginning to look the worst for his 3-night ordeal. But a trace of a smile in his otherwise exhausted face gave me hope. I walked over to the hologram display area. He had 3 new versions of the hologram hanging ready to be viewed. The first still showed what was now a much smaller “scar” close to the hairline, the second the hair had moved partially onto the neck and the rest was lost in the background. The third, well, the third, it was gone completely. It was perfect. I was so overwhelmed that I turned to give him a big hug. But, just at that very second, he lit up a fresh joint and was, temporarily lost in a blue cloud of mind-altering smoke, and the moment passed.
“Yeah, it was a real bitch”, he said. “I spent all night jiggling the film around so that that hair would be hidden in your Queen’s own hair. It’s still there you know, you just don’t see it anymore.

I had been reprieved. I had stared into an abyss and Lady Luck had stared back.

As a token of celebration, I told Peter to get some sleep and I would pick up 3 copies of the hologram with the master after the weekend.
He agreed without a whimper of protest.

5. First Results

3 days later at the agreed time, I came to inspect the first proofs of the hologram. Yeah, said Peter, I had to work through the night to get this done. I saw the image for the first time, there was Beatrix and Claus floating behind the film, slowly turning towards each other, there’s the smile when they see each other, I was beginning to get enthusiastic and then….

I spotted a line on the right side of Beatrix’s face from her hair down to her chin, it actually looked like a huge scar! My God, this would never do.
In a panic, I screamed “Peter, what is this? Where’s this come from?”. Not even the spectre of my going ballistic could stimulate Peter to be any less laid back than what he normally was. He came over the hologram and stared for what appeared to be an eternity at the glaringly obvious scar across the Queen’s face. Finally, a reaction. “Shiiiit, I got a hair in my liquid lens!.”

In those days, large glass lenses were very expensive and in true Whole Earth Catalog style, the 35 had decided to find a cheaper alternative and eventually started making liquid lenses containing a liquid with the correct refractive index of glass lenses. Filling the lenses in an environment that was less than completely dust-free, always increased the liklihood of the possibility of foreign matter contaminating the process.
The Royal Portrait had become the victim of such a contaminated process. There was a renegade hair inside the liquid lens running amok!

Peter assured me that all was not lost and said he would re-make the hologram that evening. I returned to the hotel completely numb.

The following afternoon I returned. Peter had, as he had promised, re-made the hologram overnight but the results were not good. The offending hair had moved but still appeared on the face even though it was less prominent than the first proof.

Peter now was beginning to get a little agitated. He knew what I was going to ask and he did not relish the idea of another long night re-making the hologram again. A last throw of the dice was being contemplated. He reluctantly agreed. I hoped he had a cunning plan but deep down, I knew he didn’t. If he was unable to remove the hair this time, the show was over.

4. Starting work

Arriving in San Francisco, and calling up the Company produced a different result than the one I had expected. Previously, when I called them, I sometimes got half a dozen people on the line before I got to the one I wanted. Now, calling from the hotel room, the phone rang and rang with no answer until just as I was about to hang up, a croaky wheezy voice came on the line. I knew immediately it could not be the receptionist because despite a reputation for being laid back, most businesses in San Francisco had not yet allowed their telephone personnel to greet their callers with, “hey, man what’s happening?”. I tried to explain exactly what was happening and why I had come and why making this Royal portrait was important. The Voice on the other end of the phone thought this was so cool, farout etc and asked me if I could drop by in a couple of weeks and he would be able to make the hologram. The Voice obviously had completely overlooked the sense of urgency I had communicated in my explanation of what’s happening. After some negotiating, the Voice agreed to meet with me the following afternoon. (Office hours at the Company tended to start some time after one in the afternoon and continue until there was no one left to man the phones.)

The following afternoon I got out of the taxi in front of the warehouse where the Company had established itself years before. The building was huge and could have probably housed any production facility that needed to employ a few hundred people. As it was – even when I had visited it – two years before – there was never anymore than about 20 people working at any one time.
Now when I entered, the whole building was eerily quiet. Occasionally, I could hear the sound of a hammer hitting metal a long way a way. But people there were not. I followed the sound of the hammerings to the other side of the warehouse where I found Peter – the original Voice – working away on his “hologram master printer”.

Things had changed, he said, Chris had sold out. Many of the 35 had lost interest, he continued, when they realized the Company was going to be neither a meal ticket or a rent ticket unless they invested some real energy in making it work. This was very much a concept that the 35 could grasp without too much difficulty and when it was presented to them the shock and awe it generated, caused a stampede for the door.

Therefore, Peter and one or two others, inherited the Company and a building that could probably have earned 100 times more in parking fees if it had been turned into a car park than it ever would as a holographic production facility.

Peter looked at my film between drawing on a joint and talking to me whilst he held the marijuana smoke still in his lungs. Far out man, he wheezed. Far out, man. He repeated this so many times I was beginning to wonder whether he actually had a problem like those people that had a nervous disposition which forced them to constantly repeat swear words.
I was anxious to get an idea about the planning because I was on a budget and didn’t want to stay in San Francisco a day longer than necessary. Peter continued to claim that he was really busy and could not do the job for at least a week. We finally settled on 3 days and I left him the film.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

3. The Company

With some decent takes in the can, I started to contemplate the next part of the project. Stage two - transferring the film into a hologram had all the potential to be a nightmare from Hell. Not because of any overriding technical problems but rather the difficulties that were sure to arise dealing with the Company.

You see, there was only one company in the world that could do the holographic processing I needed – and that was in San Francisco. In the previous 5 years, we had had all of our jobs done there.
However, the Company (as I will call them) was somewhat unusual; it was originally founded in 1973/4 by 35 partners. It became a “shining example” of post-hippy entrepreneurialism – although many would argue that describing this company as “post-hippy” is being far too generous with the truth.

The 35 were probably the most colourful, diverse group of bizarre individuals that had ever assembled in the name of furthering American capitalism. Apart from the standard variety of space cowboy, there were many more exotic forms, some of whom had still not managed to land back on Planet Earth since departing years earlier in the days when LSD was considered as much a part of youthful living as “Latte” is today.

But the 35 were much more diverse. There were poets, artists, body painters, Sasquatch hunters, UFO watchers, macrobiotic eaters and followers of every guru to have ever claimed a convert on Venice Beach, and heading this amazing collection of human diversity was the manager of the Company - Chris.
Chris was a very intelligent guy, an intuitive inventor who had a number of patents to his name. But behind all the marijuana smoke and painted mirrors, nothing was as it seemed. It was rumoured (although I never found anyone to confirm this) that he was a cross dresser. Most afternoons, it was said, he used to breeze through the factory surveying the holographic production process wearing his favourite ankle-length dress – a rather surrealistic and comical affair, to say the least, especially as he tended to have irregular shaving habits.

What was immediately apparent was this company did not possess any resources that had been formally trained in business management. Profit and Loss, Business plan, Return on Investment, Total Cost of Ownership and Project deliverables were all abstract concepts that did not resonate at their shareholder meetings.

Projects would get delivered in a rather dynamic, ad hoc fashion usually determined by the number of people that had shown up for work on any particular day and the time of the month when income was needed to pay the rent.
Well that is the way it used to be from my earlier visits.

Imagine my horror, therefore, when I got a message from Leopold telling me that The Dutch Secret Service had called him and had “kindly” offered their services to arrange the delivery and pick up of the film to and from our processors in San Francisco. Just the image of someone from the Dutch embassy sitting opposite Chris (or any other partner , for that matter), one afternoon, discussing the planning for the hologram was enough to get me on the phone without delay
After some lengthy explanations about the “complicated” process of this still-cutting edge technology, they agreed that it was better to let me go and arrange the project on the spot myself. I was on my way.

2. The Shoot

On the appointed day, we arrived at the Houses of Parliament, found the room, set up and tested the equipment then went to lunch.
When we got back we found that the Dutch Prime minister – presumably with nothing else to do that day, (like running a country) – had heard about the imminent arrival of Princess Beatrix and, of course, had felt an immediate desire to be present.

She arrived with her husband surrounded by the secretaries, ladies-in-waiting, security people and the other hangers-on that are always collectively known as the Entourage. Introductions were made. Instructions were given. I got them to sit on the turntable and asked them to look straight ahead. As the film started to roll and the turntable rotate, I asked them to slowly turn to face each other and smile.

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Don’t believe it. I had not counted on the fact that Beatrix actually had a great sense of humour. I sat below the camera, shouted “Action “ and everything started to move the way it was supposed to do until Beatrix started to turn her head to look at her husband. And, as soon as she got him in her field of vision she burst into a loud and violent laugh.

Now, to make these holograms, the golden rule is slow, smooth movements. I had seen examples of finished holograms where this rule had not been adhered to and the effect was nothing less comic. Laughing – and particularly Beatrix’s laughing was neither slow nor smooth. We had a problem.

The hour that had been allocated to this project flew by. The secretaries started signalling to her that the time was up. Beatrix called me over and asked me how things were going. As diplomatically as I possibly could be, I told her that all the takes we had made til then would not produce one good hologram. She thought for a moment, called over the secretary and asked her to cancel the following appointment, She intended to stay with us.

She and Claus stayed another 45 minutes. We got around 6 more takes, she got more serious and we started to get some decent footage. In the end, she appeared to have enjoyed herself immensely. Claus as well. As he left, he told me he would look forward to meeting again when the hologram was finished. And then, they were gone.

1. How it Started

3 months before, I had been running a small holography gallery in Eindhoven following a very successful exhibition I had helped organise in the town. When the exhibition closed, the owners of the local shopping mall had offered us a site where we could continue to present our holograms on a semi-permanent basis. The shop space they had provided allowed us to make both a gallery and a commercial outlet.
Then, one day, Leopold, the sponsor of the then-departed exhibition called to tell me that the request he had made to some government department to make a royal holographic portrait had been accepted. However, the portrait would not be of the then Queen Juliana but her daughter – Princess Beatrix. We were told to assemble at the Dutch Houses of Parliament 3 weeks hence where a location had been reserved for the event.

At that moment in time, I was the only person in the Netherlands that had had any experience making these sorts of holograms and I was, therefore, not unnaturally, asked to organize the project.

These holograms were made in a 2-stage process.
The first part consisted of shooting a small movie using 35mm high resolution black and white film. The subject was placed on a turntable which rotated approximately 120 degrees in the space of 15 seconds.
The second part transferred the individual frames from that film through a lens system and re-exposed them with a laser as a series of thin lines onto a large sheet of holographic film.
The finished result would be a transparent plastic sheet of film about 45 cms wide by 25 cms high which, when a point source of light was placed behind it, would cause a fully three dimensional moving image to appear floating in space.

So I began to organize the people I needed, the guys to make the turntable, the film crew to shoot the film etc. Royal protocol, on the other hand, had other ideas. It seems that bureaucrats around the Royal Family always used one particular film company – Polygoon Journal – and, therefore, insisted that I use them instead of my team. I acceded to their demand, somewhat relieved they had not insisted on bringing in their own film director, a job I was uniquely qualified to do.


For most of those that were there, standing in that palatial reception room with all its gilt trim, its ornate ceiling and impressive royal paintings hanging on the walls, from years gone by, it was a mildly special but otherwise unspectacular event.

When the huge adjoining doors opened and the Queen of the Netherlands walked in, accompanied by her husband, Prince Claus and the Entourage that goes with them whenever they move, I stepped up and introduced myself for the second time. Just that very fact was proof - for me - that miracles do happen. Next