It seems that the Chinese planners of the (awesome) opening ceremonies were leaving nothing to chance Friday night. The 29 footprint-shaped firework bursts that appeared to “walk” across Beijing from Tiananmen Square to the Bird’s Nest stadium really did happen, but the video of them – which was shown to 4 billion TV viewers and the 100,000 people in the stadium – was digitally generated. Story here.
Just so we fully understand, fireworks very much like what we saw did actually happen outside the stadium, but the video that was shown inside the stadium on the jumbotron and sent through the official video feed to networks all over the world, was cooked up on someone’s computer. The reasoning was that for such an important and difficult airborne tracking shot, relying on a human being to precision-pilot a camera-bearing helicopter was too dangerous and uncertain. So what we all saw was basically an artist’s rendering of what we would have seen if there really had been a cameraman at work.
For me, there are two take-aways from this:
1. Don’t believe anything without supporting evidence. We all know that Photoshop can be used to alter still photos to show anything, like this fake Iranian missile picture. We’ve always known that just because something appears in print, it doesn’t mean it’s true. We know that audio tapes can be mixed to make anyone “say” anything. But this is the first instance of video imagery being used in such an extensive hoax (that I’m aware of anyway – I know people that think men walking on the moon was staged in a studio).
2. This is a perfect example of the philosophical challenge I posed in this post, where I asked if it would be OK to charge people a lot of money for wine that didn’t really cost a lot of money, because it is scientifically proven that they will enjoy it more that way. This is exactly what China did – hoodwinked me to make my experience better – and I’m glad they did it. The inclusion of that sequence increased my enjoyment of the Opening Ceremonies spectacle. Now that I know it was “faked,” I still have a better memory of the event than I probably would have if I had not seen, or not seen as well, that part of the show.
I guess I have to conclude that tricking people for their own good is a bad thing to do, though, or else I’m basically endorsing the whole Matrix concept…
[UPDATE: Purely by concidence, I saw this story today at BoingBoing that tells how easily photographs can be misrepresented, without even altering them at all.]
[UPDATE #2: By now you’ve all heard that the little girl that sang the anthem at the ceremony was just lip-synching another girl’s singing, and everyone appears to think this is wrong; whereas the reaction to the fireworks fakery was generally benign. What’s the diff?]