Living With High Tech Hoaxes

A woman peeks her head out the window of a helicopter as it approaches the World Trade Center chatting idly with her companions as they look at the structure and take photographs in an attempt to get their money’s worth of the incredible view above the New York City Skyline.  Soon the woman notices a strange object dart behind one of the towers and turns her head confused back at the cameraman.  Seconds later a disc-shaped craft soars toward them with a tremendous whoosh and clearly disappears into the distance at speeds unfathomable by current technology.  The incredible footage, however, was nothing more than one of the most iconic of a recent trend: computer generated hoaxes.

Viewers were astounded when later it became clear that the mysterious images and film footage were actually created as part of a promotion by the Sci-fi channel to generate interest in the paranormal and aliens.  Other footage was used in order to convince viewers that other strange incidents had occurred including a sudden invasion by ladybugs exhibiting a strange level of pattern recognition and intelligence and a child brought to life after being electrocuted on a fence.  Of course these other clips were largely discounted, but in the consensus reality of the Internet the UFO hoax was shuffled in as some of the most convincing evidence of the era by some.  And indeed if it were genuine, it would be incredibly compelling.  The Sci-Fi Channel’s guerrilla marketing was again evidenced in a false documentary hoax made about director M. Night Shayamalan in order to generate excitement over his project “The Village” to suggest that the director of Sixth Sense fame had actually undergone a near death experience as a child that resulted in him contacting dead relatives via a spiritual experience.  Eventually as they were confronted, the Sci-fi channel admitted a hoax.

So what are we to think if major companies and entertainment venues with far more resources both technologically and financially than we are making a genuine effort to pull the wool over our eyes?  Is there a system of sniffing out hoaxes even now when the images are crystal clear and seemingly perfect?  No matter how advanced the hoaxes become, there are some fundamental basics that are almost always overlooked.

First, a CG hoax will often require actors that are not CG.  Pay close attention to the actors.  Does something seem off about them?  Generally actors for these hoaxes will be sought out based on their ability to keep silent and their low profile rather than their abilities.  Of course this doesn’t mean that cannot be talented and convincing as well, but it’s often easier to spot a hoax based on the words said off camera than the images on camera.  Second, CG hoaxes will rarely move behind quickly moving detailed objects such as trees where the individual leaves are visible.  It’s far easier to make a CG object hide behind a straight line such as a wall.  Finally, keep an eye out for lighting.  What is the light source?  Are there reflections and if so, from where?  But most importantly, just as it’s important to be able to discover if an image or footage is fake, it’s also important to be able to know the genuine article if it arises.  In this new world we find ourselves in of high tech fakery, it seems the proof is in the pixels.