Riding through certain attractions at major theme parks in Orlando, you can be easily and simultaneously stunned and fascinated by the special visual effects. You may wonder just how it is they can project the head and shoulders of a mythical pirate onto falling water, or make characters jump from a screen onto a stage. Obviously, it is all done with custom video installation and visual tricks, but that does not explain exactly how it is done.
Projecting onto Water
You would not think it possible to project an image onto water, but it is. A camera is set at just the right angle so that the image cast by the video camera is reflected by the water. When that image is cast on flowing water, like a water fall, the effect is even more stunning as it looks like the character is more ghostly and speaking to you from within the falling water. This effect is created by A) the falling water itself, and B) the light of the video image passing through small gaps in the falling water and bouncing off the water as it falls. In short, if you could create a continuous waterfall in your backyard, you could project an entire movie onto the water for a very spooky effect.
Sleight of Hand, Animation to Live Action
Taking animated characters from the screen into live action situations is done one of two ways, both of which are "sleight of hand" tricks. The easiest method is to use 3D imaging so that viewers have to wear 3D glasses to enjoy the show. The 3D film is layered such that, at just the right time, characters pop out of the screen closer to you and make it look like they are walking around.
The second method is a little trickier, in that you have to get projections to focus on smaller pop-up screens or mirrors until a person has suited up and appeared in the crowd at just the right time to make it look like the character came right out of the screen. Either way, both distract viewers' attention elsewhere until the exact moment when your attention is redirected toward the area where the live action character will appear. If you wanted to recreate this effect, you would need to study directional techniques that most magicians already know.
Interactive animation is quite the newest technology. Favorite characters talk to you directly, as though they are sentient and can see you in the room. The trick to this is that good animation makes it appear as though name recognition is real, when the mouths of the characters could be saying any name. As for the interactive part, the rest of the animation and programming is the same. The interaction part is the result of a live video feed back into the control room where the programmers can see the people in the room and call them out by personal features or clothing identification