by Dan Drasin, October 25, 1996
[For release via CNI News and Erik Beckjord's mailing list. May be reproduced and transmitted for non-commercial, informational purposes, only if kept whole, intact and without editing, restructuring or any other modifications of its contents. Length of original file is 14682 characters.]
With many thanks to Erik Beckjord for supplying a copy of the video.
I have just viewed the so-called "Oliver's Castle" videotape, a short (about 20-second) clip taken in southern England during the Summer of 1996, that appears to show the actual forming of a snowflake-shaped crop circle. Also depicted are four rapidly moving balls of light ("BOLs") whose presence seems connected in some way with the forming of the crop circle.
After many years of investigating UFOs and related phenomena, I've come to the conclusion that one cannot presume to have solid facts in hand unless one has been intimately involved in the relevant aspects of a given case. I also know first-hand that bona-fide situations may be intentionally or
Unintentionally mis-reported and may consequently appear dubious or suspectand of course, vice-versa. Therefore I will leave it to others to deal with the circumstances and personalities involved in making and releasing this tape. I will instead limit my analysis and report to what I can actually see
on the tape itself.
I will try to be as thorough as possible in this posting, but if I have any further thoughts, or if anyone calls any errors or omissions to my attentionwhich I would certainly welcomeI will make additional postings as needed. However, my heavy work schedule does not permit me to engage in
protracted online debates.
I've spent over 35 years as a documentary cinematographer, videographer and still photographer. I have a reasonably solid understanding of motion-picture special effects, computer-graphics and computer-video techniques. Although I have not personally worked in the field of high-end Hollywood-caliber), state-of-the-art special-effects technology, I do believe I have a grasp of the general principles involved that is sufficient for the purposes at hand here.
The silent VHS copy I viewed was at least third-generation, and had evidently been converted from 50-frame/sec PAL to the 60-frame/sec American NTSC video standard. It was fairly noisy ("grainy"), partly due to having been shot in low light with what was undoubtedly *not* a broadcast-quality camera or recorder. Therefore I will refrain from any technical "microanalysis" and will instead concentrate on those aspects of the action that do not seem to hinge on the finesse of the image.
The clip starts with a panoramic shot taken from a high vantage point, looking down towards several cultivated fields separated by trees and hedgerows. It appears to be early morning, and the sky is overcast so that the lighting is uniform and no clear shadows are visible. In this panoramic shot one can see an unattended second cameraprobably a semi-professional camcorder with an interchangeable zoom or telephoto lensmounted on an amateur or semiprofessional tripod with its centre column extendedthe legs seem to be hidden behind a row of bushes. This camera is pointing off to the right, perhaps aimed at an adjacent field.
It is in the second shot that all of the action takes place. In this shot the camera starts with a wide-angle view of the largest and most central field and then zooms in as two glowing BOLs (very rough estimate: 3 to 6 feet in diameter, and maintaining perhaps 30-50 feet altitude throughout) appear at
the far centre of the frame and loop around the right side into the foreground where they proceed right-to-left, apparently circling or "framing" the central portion of the field. They continue to loop around to the far left, still circling clockwise. As they pass over the far-CENTER of the field, a small "disturbance" appears in the crop. This disturbance expands into a definite, progressive, outward spiraling motion that appears to lay down the crop stalks in a circular fashion, starting at the CENTER, working its way outward through several revolutions, and abruptly terminating at the outer edge of what has now become a central circle. The entire process takes approximately one second.
Just before the central circle is completed, six "satellite circles" appear to form simultaneously in a similar fashion. These smaller circles are connected to the central circle by six "spokes" that have formed at the same time. Total elapsed time is approximately two to three seconds.
At this point the two BOLs are heading away toward the far right edge of the frame, but are still in view. Now a third BOL appears, coming into the frame from about the same direction as the first two and following a similar path, looping around to the right and momentarily going out of frame. When the BOL reappears in the foreground it is being followed by a companion BOL, smaller and less luminous, which may have split off from the original onethough this is not clear, since the split would have occurred while the BOL was outside the frame. (This should be checked with an under scanned monitor, which displays the entire frame inside the picture tube in the manner of most computer monitors. Unfortunately I did not have one at my disposal for this viewing.)
Eventually all four BOLs leave the frame, and the recording cuts to the third shot, which is a zoom-out from a close-up of the crop circle to a broader shot of the field. At the widest extent of the zoom one can again see the second camera, which appears not to have changed its position.
LIGHT REFLECTION: The manner in which the light from the sky reflects from the floors of the main and satellite circles is consistent with the reflectivity pattern of swirled grass. In all cases the leftmost portion of each circle is brightest and the rightmost darkest. This reflection pattern is visible from the very first moment at which the central circle begins to be formed.
QUALITIES OF MOTION: The quality of motion of the pairs of BOLs would best be described as "elegant." In other words, their movements were flowing and non-mechanical, and possessed a rhythmic "aliveness" and a sense of relationship reminiscent of pairs of large birds or dolphins at play. This may sound overly subjective, but I know of no other way to describe it. Similarly, the process of formation of the crop circle maintained a smoothness of action that was "all of a piece"it was one continuous, progressive motion with no jerkiness or discontinuity to it.
PERSPECTIVE: As would be expected of real objects, the BOLs appeared proportionately larger when in the foreground, and grew smaller as they receded towards the background.
CAMERA MOTION: The camera's panning and tilting movements tended to be somewhat irregular and jerky, which is characteristic of the use of a lightweight tripod that does not have a fluid-action head. For purposes of this analysis, this is significant for the following reasons:
<> To hoax BOLs and a forming circle by means of matting or superimposition would, in theory (i.e. apart from the fabric of circumstancessee below) be fairly do-able, assuming a *fixed* background shot; i.e., with the camera stationary and locked off in a static framing.
<> To similarly hoax the BOLs and the circle over a smoothly and uniformly moving background shot would be orders of magnitude more expensive and complex. Hollywood can do this kind of thing by computer-controlling the camera's movements, and then likewise computer-controlling the movements of the superimposed artifacts (i.e., BOLs and Circle) in sync with the camera's programmed motion.
<> To similarly hoax the BOLs and the circle over the kind of random camera jiggle displayed in this video clip would probably require additional orders of magnitude of time and expense. This is not to say that it couldn't be done, only that it would require a *very* hefty budget, top-notch expertise and plenty of planning and lead-time.
THE BOLs' LUMINANCE: It has been pointed out by several observers that the BOLs seem momentarily to decrease in brightness as they pass over the hedgerow at the far end of the field. This could be a result of careless superimposition, but it could as easily be a result of the BOLs' intensity saturating the camera's image sensor and "blooming" slightly (seeming larger than their true size). Then as they pass over the darker hedgerow the "bloom" area is reduced due to the lower total light level reaching that part of the image sensor.
If this scene had been caught on 35mm motion picture film or the very finest video equipment it might have been possible to observe or measure the light thrown by the BOLs onto the field belowassuming, of course, that they were real, and radiating this light downward as well as upward into the camera, which can't be determined in this video. In any case, the graininess of the video I saw seems to preclude any such observations one way or the other. Note that the BOLs were perhaps 40 feet in the air, and that they were simply glowing, not casting focused beams onto the ground.
One way to superimpose moving lights on a scene that was shot with a jerky camera, would be to place the camera inside a dark tent and put a half-silvered mirror in front of the lens so that it reflected into the lens what was happening off to the side. Then flashlights could be manipulated in such a way as to give the impression that the lights were maintaining a natural relationship to the background, regardless of the camera jiggle.
However, it's not quite as simple as that. To begin with, as you tilted the camera (say, vertically), the outermost part of the lens (which sticks out in front of the camera) would be displaced vertically, imparting excessive vertical motion to the (closer) lights, relative to the apparent vertical motion of the (more distant) background. The same disproportionate exaggeration of of the lights' motion would occur in the horizontal dimension as well. To get rid of this effect you'd have to pivot the camera on the end of its lens, which would produce a kind of camera motion quite unlike that produced by a tripod head.
Then there's that ineffable question of *quality of motion*. To synthesise the "aliveness" of these BOLs would require something a lot more sophisticated than flashlightsperhaps some laborious computer animation, and a computer screen with extremely high resolution exactly synchronised to the relatively slow frame-rate of the video system. Possible? Yes, theoretically.
So you could conceivably superimpose lights. But wait a minuteyou can't superimpose dark areas this way. Oops... some parts of the crop circle are *darker* than the original, undisturbed field. End of speculation about the "mirror trick."
Since the essential action takes place in one continuous scene, editing is not an issue.
If the actual crop circle were hoaxed, one would, I think, have to assume the following:
1) The first part of the main scene would have had to be shot *before* the circle was produced.
2) The latter part would have had to be shot *after* the circle was produced.
3) Somehow the creation of the circle would have had to be simulated by computer animation in such a fashion as to match perfectly the actual circle, in its precise position and orientation on the field, as viewed from precisely that camera position, and in such a way as to be inserted into the scene *seamlessly*, in the midst of random camera motion and zooming, with no visible cuts or dissolves in the background scene, and with **no change of light level or quality or direction over a period of at least several hours**.
Such a sequence of events would, I think, stretch the credulity of even the most sophisticated special-effects consultant.
Hoaxers can sometimes overlook some very essential detail or glaring fault that can then turn around and nail them in the end. For example, in the controversial "Alien Autopsy" film, the corpse appears essentially human-like and looks from the outside as if it should have a reasonably humanoid or mammalian skeletal structure. But at least as far as I can recall (please correct me if I'm wrong) when the chest is opened there is no ribcage whatsoever. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Nor anything even approaching, say, some cartilaginous equivalent. No hard tissue of any kind that would support the anterior thorax and its internal organs. Of course, who is to say what an alien's skeleton should look like? Still, one smells a pungent rat...
But in this Oliver's Castle video clip I observe no such telltale red flags.
Assuming that the video is not a hoax, one can only speculate as to the purpose of the BOLs. There seems no way to tell whether they were directly involved in the formation of the circle. If I had to venture a wild guess, I might say they could have been there to focus the observer's attention to the place where the circle was to be formed... or even to distract the observer from noticing whatever was in fact forming the circle. Your guess is as good as mine.
Perhaps some of these have already been done, and if so it would be interesting to find out the results:
<> Check the direction of the swirls and the compass orientation of the spokes in the video against those of the actual circle as photographed and measured by others later.
<> Co-ordinate the reported date and time of the video shoot with that of the actual appearance of the circle.
<> Check weather records and see if they coincide with the conditions depicted in the video.
<> Determine whether earlier generations of this tape had a sound track. (Often the human reactions recorded on the soundtracks of UFO-sighting videos can be as telling and evidential as the images.)
It would be presumptuous and unscientific to declare that this video absolutely could not have been hoaxed.
Still, I'm impressed. If someone were to come forward and claim this video as their own hoax, I would certainly insist on very solid proof of that claim. Since talk is cheap, I'd hold their feet to the fire and absolutely demand an actual demonstration or replication of how it was done. No fudging, no excuses, and no "Doug 'n' Dave" sweet-talk. Just the facts, ma'am.
[From Dan Drasin 10/17/96, by way of Erik Beckjord's mailing list , reproduced in
their entirety: ]
Couple of pointers on video analysis:
The two fields in a video frame both scan from top to bottom, but they're interlaced; i.e., first field = the odd lines, second field, the even lines.
Computer video often economises on data by doing "skip-field scan" which essentially reproduces one field twice instead of the actual alternate fields. (Earlymid-1970sSony black & white home videotape systems used this technique as well.) So if the video in question had been stored in a computer at any time it is *possible* that the result could have frame-by-frame movement even though the original had field-by-field movement.
The hardest thing to hoax is a hand-held shot, since the hoaxed superimposition would have to track the random, shaky movements of the camera precisely. This would theoretically be possible to do with the right software, but even Hollywood avoids this kind of thing. Complex special effects are done either over static background shots or with carefully computer-controlled camera movements.
If the OC video was shot handheld or on an amateur-type tripod I'd say it's most likely genuine. If it was shot on a locked-down tripod I'd say it's more likely to have been hoaxed, since the chances of the action occurring precisely where the camera was pointing would seem more remote.
[end 1st article]
[comment from Erik Beckjord 10/19/96 : ]
POINT: having put it on a computer disk AT ANY TIME before
transferring it back to tape to show it, means that
the original was not being shown to the viewers - nor
to Vigay, nor to Winterston, etc, but a copy, which means that JW was lying about showing an original.
[reply from Dan Drasin : ]
Just to be squeaky-clean about this: it is *possible* that the video could have been transferred into and out of a computer and still retain its two-field-per-frame format. My point was only that the skip-field technique is often used for *some* purposes. For other purposes, a computer may store and reproduce two-field, full-motion, broadcast-standard video that is essentially equal to the original.
The rules that apply to video analysis can be quite different from those for film analysis, but in what way depends on the particular elements you're trying to analyse.
As for the BOLs moving only on a per-frame basis (as opposed to per-field), I'd be interested to know how each field was isolated in order to determine that. Normally when you freeze a frame you freeze the *whole* frame at once (i.e., both fields are seen simultaneously). Perhaps some particular piece of video editing software may allow you to isolate one frame at will, but if so I'm not familiar with it.
In any case, as you have pointed out, either (preferably) the original or at least a very clean, professionally-produced copy should be analysed. Of course, if the manner of hoaxing is crude enough, telltale signs of it should be perfectly obvious even on inferior or multi-generational copies...