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Eric Sloss

Anne Watzman

For immediate release:
June 28, 2005

Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center Conjures Up Benjamin Franklin's Ghost

People who wish to talk with Franklin's Ghost will find it floating on a large screen above this table, which holds a book containing questions about his life. They can touch the questions that interest them or type in other ones while Franklin answers in real time.
PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) has created "Ben Franklin's Ghost," a virtual Benjamin Franklin with whom people can interact, for Philadelphia's Lights of Liberty Show, premiering July 1 at Independence National Historical Park in downtown Philadelphia.

Writer, scientist, inventor, businessman and statesman, Franklin was one of the founding fathers of our country. He is the only person to have signed all four of the documents that helped to create the United States—the Declaration of Independence; the Treaty of Alliance, Amity and Commerce with France; the Treaty of Peace between England, France and the United States; and the United States Constitution.

People who wish to have a chat with Franklin's Ghost will find it floating on a large screen above a table, which holds a book containing a great many questions about his life, times and accomplishments. They can touch the questions that interest them or type in other ones while Franklin answers in real time as he floats before them.

The technology enabling this ghostly exchange is called a Synthetic Interview, which was invented and patented by Carnegie Mellon researchers. It's a way of capturing information from a database so that the person accessing it appears to have a natural conversation with a video persona.

In this case, the persona is Ralph Archibald, an actor who has been portraying Franklin for more than 25 years. The video of his portrayal is made to look otherworldly through a 150-year-old technique called "Pepper's Ghost," a classic haunted-house trick involving an image viewed in a partial mirror and a pane of glass, which are placed near each other in a semi-perpendicular fashion. The viewer sees objects on the other side of the glass while simultaneously seeing the mirror image, creating an illusion of a floating body that is very powerful.

Franklin's Ghost was created by Jessica Trybus, director of edutainment at the Entertainment Technology Center. ETC faculty member Chris Klug designed the lighting for the exhibit, and Kevin Lee Allan Design of Clinton, N.J., provided the architecture in which it resides.

"This project came about through the generous support and vision of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and is one more way visitors to Philadelphia can enjoy learning about U.S. history," said Trybus. "This technology, generated by Carnegie Mellon researchers, has given life to a myriad of characters including Albert Einstein."

The Synthetic Interview was invented by Scott Stevens, presently a senior systems scientist in Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, and Michael Christel, senior systems scientist in the Computer Science Department, both in the School of Computer Science. They developed the technology when they worked at the university's Software Engineering Institute as part of an advancedlearning technology project originally used for training purposes. It subsequently evolved into a tool for entertainment and education. The technology received a patent in February 1999.

The Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon offers an interdisciplinary master's program with the College of Fine Arts and School of Computer Science. Although students come from both fine arts and technology backgrounds, they are not expected to master both fields. Instead, the program focuses on honing the students' existing skills and teaching them to work effectively with other professional groups. Carnegie Mellon is the only university to offer a master's in entertainment technology (MET) degree. For additional information about the ETC or MET degree, visit

For more information about Ben Franklin's Ghost visit or contact Eric Sloss at 412-268-5765 or


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