Explained: Sky Mapping at the Seattle Space Needle [Virtual, Not "Blue Beam]

Mick West

Staff member
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhbLeV2m0xE

The COVID-19 Pandemic forced the cancellation of the traditional Seattle New Year's Celebration fireworks at the Space Needle. Instead this was replaced with a virtual display, visible only online and one local TV.

Instead of fireworks at Seattle Center, we’ll be ending COVID-19-marred 2020 in the most socially distanced way possible: with a virtual display that can be seen only on a screen.

How’s it work? Well, it’s pretty simple. Find a nice, warm, comfy spot, fire up your favorite device and enjoy. All the magic happens on-screen only. Anyone looking directly at the Needle will see it lit with magenta lights and nothing more.

“At first we were going to just do the same pyro show digitally,” Olson said. “And then we thought if we’re going to design a virtual show, we can do anything. And so we’re going to take over the sky.”

The way this works is relatively straightforward. First, a virtual 3D model of the Space Needle and the surrounding area is built. An artist creates a 3D light show that exists only in the virtual environment. Then several real-world viewpoints are chosen and photographed or videoed with a real camera to get the foreground and background. Finally, the virtual light show is composited with the real shots, using the 3D information to ensure things go behind the Space Needle and the foreground trees, so it all looks like part of the scene.


However, some conspiracy theorists see it as something more:


They are referring to Project Blue Beam, an old theory from 1994 that claims that NASA will fake a UFO invasion by projecting images of invading spaceships, or possibly God, onto the sky - or some other technology, like directly into your brain.

And on the face of it, the Seattle light show looks like it could indeed do that - until you realize that it's not actually there, just on the TV. Anyone sticking their head out of the window would realize it was not real. It's virtual sky mapping.

You can't project things onto the sky, because you need something to project onto, like the side of a building, or a suspended screen. And then, of course, you can see it's not really invading aliens.