Welcome to the holofants
© Roncalli
February 2023

Welcome to the holofants

By Volker Paulun
Wild animals belong to a circus like clowns and acrobats – but who says that they must be real? True-to-original holograms can deliver even higher entertainment value. Initial proof of that has already been provided.

In 2018, the audience at the German Circus Roncalli got to marvel at the world’s first holographic performance in a circus ring. It was a small sensation. “More than 150 countries carried reports about it on their evening news,” Ringmaster Bernhard Paul recalls. For almost five years now, Roncalli has been displaying imaginary animals such as elephants, horses and birds. They also perform tricks that real-world animals would not be capable of even after perfect training – without interfering with animal welfare. Eleven 360-degree projectors bring the luminous animals to life. Sometimes in realistic, sometimes in fantastic ways – and always in impressive style.

The benefit for the circus – besides enthusiastic spectators: it saves costs for food, accommodation and transportation. Besides that, many spectators – especially animal rights activists – feel that the use of real animals in circuses is a cruel anachronism. Many cities and regions already ban the use of living animals in shows. Using Roncalli-type holograms, the entertainment industry is transforming its traditional program elements into the 21st century by means of state-of-the-art technology.

In the French L’Ecocirque Bouglione, polar bears dance through the ring as holograms as well and virtual killer whales glide totally relaxed through dry air space. Magic worlds are created on projection screens in the background. Former animal trainers Sandrine and André Bouglione spent four years fine-tuning their show. Sandrine says that one of the reasons for the transformation is that they’re artists and entertainers from the bottom of their hearts who want to thrill also younger generations that, for ethical reasons, have major problems with them working with real animals.

  • Holo polar bear in the French L'Ecocirque Bouglione …
    Holo polar bear in the French L'Ecocirque Bouglione … © Parc Zoologique d’Amnéville
  • and a virtual jellyfish
    and a virtual jellyfish © Parc Zoologique d’Amnéville
High-tech zoo instead of cage housing

The zoo industry has already jumped on the holographic bandwagon too – either as a complement to real-world animal life or as a purely virtual show. The “Hologram Zoo” that was opened in Brisbane, Australia, in December 2022 invites its visitors to immerse themselves in a holoverse created by high-precision laser light. There they walk across canyons, watch blue whales and dinosaurs, or cross a river at night on which pink-shining lotus blossoms are floating and in which three-meter (118-inch) goldfish are swimming. Besides the suitable sound, natural-simulating scents and wind machines condense the atmosphere into a perfect copy of nature.

The project was launched by Axiom Holographics, an Australian company that normally tends to work for high-caliber academic institutions, governments, or the military. CEO Bruce Dell is so thrilled by the holo-zoo idea that he has already announced branches to be established in Japan, Texas, and Europe.

SwimVR invites its clientele to virtually dive into virtual animal worlds. Instead of a diving mask the snorkelers put on a waterproof virtual reality mask. Then they’ll enter a swimming pool where instead of blue tiles they get to see a colorfully shimmering underwater world. Colorful coral reef fish are moving around colorful coral reef branches, while a sea turtle slowly swims past them and an anemonefish defends its territory. Finding Nemo 4.0. – without intervening in sensitive eco-systems and without CO2-emitting long-haul flights. Plus, there will be no attacks from Jaws – or, if so, only in virtual ways …