The Case of the Vanishing Cameraman

Hammering the final nail into the coffin of the Oliver's Castle video

A First-Hand Report by Peter R. Sørensen
(Originally written in the spring of 1997 – revised in March 1999.)

© 1997 Peter R. Sørensen

(The first-hand bit will begin shortly, but first, a fantasy prologue in the style of a
detective novel, for the purpose of speculating on the motives of the perpetrators.)


Who’d-A-Thought It

    Through the dark, rain splattered windscreen, the young man cautiously maneuvered his small car furtively along the unfamiliar little Wiltshire roads, until, just as the carefully penciled map portrayed it, the obscure country pub emerged from the miserable night.  Way off the beaten track, the cozy little watering hole was almost never visited by anyone except the locals, and occasional small groups of shady characters wearing dark clothing in the evening.

    The warm interior of the old pub was a welcome change from the storm, and the young man was relieved to find that there was only one customer in the taproom at this late hour.  With the sound of the opening door, a thin man in a black jacket and black denim trousers looked up from his Guinness, and immediately identified the young man by his apprehensive manner.  He gestured for the newcomer to join him, and asked what he'd have to drink.

    "Just a shandy, please," the young man replied, warily eyeing the black magic brew his host savored.  Then he brightened, "Your map was perfect, I hadn't a single problem getting here from Bristol." "Care in planning the details is a key to my survival," the thin man said, matter-of-factly.  I know a lot more about you than you think I do, for instance."  And in response to the surprised expression on the others face, he hastily added, "All of which I approve. You are perfect for the job."

    With the momentary tension relieved, he leaned closer.  "You have the Skills and the anonymity that our project requires. As I said on the phone, anybody could take the shots we need, but not only must we have a computer animator who is also a good cameraman, but the individual must have an acting ability, as well.  And he must utterly disappear after the deed is done."

    "Yes, I uh, I thought I would grow a beard..." The dark man gave a single, barely audible, sarcastic laugh.  "OK.  Your real protection is that you've never been in the area before, and you never will be again. I’ll give you a mobile phone that you'll use exclusively to contact them.  When it’s over, the phone will be disconnected, and never be traceable to you."   The young man took several deep swallows of his drink  "Um, this seems like a lot of trouble for a joke.  Why does your organization want to... " "Its’ not an organization,’" the other man cut in.  "We’re just a few blokes out to have a little fun." "But, why make corn circles, and go through all this trouble for so many years?" For several moments the thin man pondered the serpentine coils of smoke that slowly arose from the cigarette in his bony fingers.  "Its something I can’t ever explain to people who don't already understand."

    He took a slow drag.  "I consider myself an artist, and a pretty good one.  People expect an artist’s ego to demand recognition, yet, outside a very small circle of friends, my art is anonymous.   How can this be?  Its not because I’m too bleeding modest, I assure you!

    "Its because think of myself like the architect of the Great Pyramid.  Who made that?!  What were his motives?  Was it even aliens that made it?  People have been bewildered by that colossal stone enigma for thousands of years.  The architect is the most successful man of mystery who ever was.  And I like being a man of mystery.

    He smiled, proudly this time.   "And, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Let’s say a researcher is studying the symbolism in the corn circles, and discovers something very powerful about the designs.  Perhaps it suits his private agenda to misdirect others who are trying to decode them.  So maybe he hires a few craftsmen who aren’t afraid of the dark, see.  He gives them some diagrams, and a hundred quid, and everybody's happy, yeah?"

"But you take serious risks trespassing…"

    The instigator shook his head slightly, and replied, "The risks are not great.   In fact, there's a thrill and satisfaction in eluding detection, not unlike a successful murder."  He paused a moment, inspecting the glowing ember that nearly touched his smoke-stained fingers."  I suppose.  I mean, I have never murdered anyone.  But, we all love a good murder, don't we?

    The smoker leaned back, and continued, "As for the circle lovers opinion of what we do; I don't care.  They are only a small fraction of our audience.  There are many thousands more who, while they assume circles are probably man made, appreciate the art for its own sake.  When they drive past the fields going to work in the morning, they say, ‘Corr!  That's a bloody good-un!’  Maybe I even make them think about reality and life deeper than they have before.  As a student of philosophy, I like to think so."

    "On the other hand, I get a lot of laughs reading the latest croppie magazines with a few beers.  And you should see them on the internet.  They squabble amongst themselves like undisciplined children!  The real phenomenon has all but disappeared from their radar because of their jealous egos.  The TV and news media easily play them for fools – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.  Their credibility with the rest of the world is hanging on a thread."

    He flicked a bit of ash off his immaculate black shirt sleeve, as if ridding himself of a bothersome insect.  "Our little video project should make them the laughingstock of the rational world –and make you the hero of practical jokers everywhere."  

    Then, pulling a thickly folded map from his back pocket, the would-be architect got down to business, "OK, memorize this part of the Ordnance Survey.  Here's Oliver’s Castle, and here's the pub where the circle researchers go..."


    Is there anyone in the crop circle universe who does not know about the chap who mysteriously appeared -- and then promptly disappeared -- after circulating a videotape which purports to show a crop circle materializing beneath flying balls of light at a place called Olivers Castle, in England, back in 1996?  I thought not.  The brouhaha in the wake of this video monopolized everyone’s attention all the following winter.  Circle researchers were soon divided into camps; those who felt it was a fraud, and those who knew it was the Circle Maker’s gift to humanity.  A staggering hodgepodge of conflicting reports and opinions has poured from this Pandora's box ever since.

    Because I have possibly been closer to the intrigue than anyone else on the croppie side of the mystery, I have no option but to stand up and relate for history the saga as I experienced it in the waning heat of that amazing summer.  I do so reluctantly, as my only previous public statement on the matter gained me little but animosity from many of my friends. 


    It all began on the foggy morning of August 11th, 1996, when tantalizing phone messages were left for me and another researcher at The Barge Inn (the pub in Wiltshire which is the most popular meeting place for us lovers of crop circles).

    The caller, who gave his name as one Jonathan Wheyleigh, briefly described to Lee Winterston (a dark and enigmatic character in his own right) and to pub manager June Potts, what he said happened to him at dawn that morning.  Supposedly he had been camping at the ancient hill fort known as Oliver’s Castle, some 10 miles away, and had seen and video's balls of light flying around over the field below, after which he realized there was a crop circle in the field which had not been there before!  Presumably because I am known as a maker of crop circle documentaries, he wanted to show me the video in the pub that evening.

    When I arrived at the pub for lunch I got the messages, and immediately went to see the actual crop formation with Nick Nicholson, the good natured, cigar wielding, editor of Circular Review magazine.  Sure enough, from atop the steep hill where the ancient fort is located, a six-armed snowflake design could clearly be seen in the field below.

OliversCastleTrams.jpg (83430 bytes)

    (While the crop formation may in fact be genuine, I was not especially impressed with its design.  Some people will tell you it was only a sloppy hoax; others say it was among the best formed and most beautiful in history.  Be that as it may, it’s the video, not the circle, that concerns us here.)

    By the time we returned to the smoke filled pub that evening, rumor and speculation were flying thick and fast.  But as the evening wore on, and Wheyleigh hadn't arrived, it seemed like the phone messages had been nothing but a joke.

    You see, a film showing a crop circle forming would be nothing less than a dream come true for us Croppies.  There have been anecdotal reports of the circle creating phenomenon in action, but it has never been captured on camera.  Not only would we all love to see such a thing, but if it were irrefutably genuine, it would be the proof needed to demonstrate, once and for all, that crop circles are not just a clever hoax.

    That's exactly why someone with nothing better to do, would consider it a good prank to leave such a message at The Barge, to get everybody all excited. – and then simply sit back and watch everyone impatiently waiting to see the non-existent video.  So, as 10:00 PM came and went, I felt that was indeed the situation.  I looked around the crowd, wondering if some weak-minded character in a far corner of the pub, was having a laugh at our expense.  I decided to call it a night, downed my fourth Scrumpy Jack (a delicious hard cider), and departed with a few other disappointed croppies.

    Unfortunately, I was wrong about the nature of the joke, since Wheyleigh did in fact show up about an hour later, after "last bell" (pubs ring a bell to let the customers know when the final orders for drinks can be placed).  The young man passed his camera around to the people who were still there, and they viewed the exciting shot played back through the cameras B&W viewfinder.  Some of those people say that what they saw then was different from the video footage which was subsequently given to me and Colin Andrews by Wheyleigh.  (Colin is the best known crop circle researcher.  His report about the video in his CPR Newsletter, Volume 5, Number 2, covers additional, tantalizing angles of the intrigue.)

    You can imagine how I wanted to kick myself in the butt when I learned that I missed my opportunity to see such an historic video. 

"I’m the man who shot the lights..."

    Three days later, I was having lunch with a friend at The Barge, when a bashful young man of about 22 years, sat down at the table with us.  He said very little for about half an hour, and then he leaned over close to me and spoke in a hushed voice, "I’m Jonathan Wheyleigh, the man who shot the lights making the crop circle."

Wow!  My pulse raced!  Maybe I’d get to see the miraculous video after all!

    He confided that, in addition to the tape he was giving to Colin, he wanted me to have one for analysis – a job I was delighted to take on.  (I wouldn't have been so eager if I had known how the fiasco would monopolize my life for months to come, and how it would plague me to this very day!)  Since he hadn't brought the tape with him, he suggested we meet at a secret location in a few days, where he promised to provide me with my copy.

    Continuing to speak quietly so as not to catch anyone else's ear, John told us what supposedly had happened to him at Oliver’s Castle.  He said he had left the pub and gone to spend the night at the hill fort, despite the fact that it had been raining, using only a big piece of plastic to cover his sleeping bag.  Early in the morning he heard a strange noise, like the classical "electronic cricket" (a sound frequently reported in association with crop circles).  The rain had already stopped, so he crawled out of his bag to see what was happening.

    There, way down in the valley below the steep slope of the hill, were balls of light flying around over the crop.  He watched dumbfounded for a few moments, and then grabbed his video camera out from inside the sleeping bag, where he had stashed it safe from the rain.  At first it wouldn't work because of moisture condensation.   (Most video cameras have a dew sensor and they won’t function if moisture has condensed inside the mechanism.  Normally a camera must be put in a warm, dry room for an hour or more to evaporate the moisture.)  But luckily, after a few moments his camera began to function properly.  By that time the lights had disappeared.   But they soon reappeared, and that’s when he started shooting.  He added that I would definitely be able to see the crop circle forming while the lights were flying around above it.

    After the lights finished their job they flew away, leaving him breathless.  Some minutes went by, and then along came a squad of army men on a morning exercise run.   As they ran by, the Sargent cryptically asked him, "Did you get what you came for?"  Which John said he thought implied that the Army knew what had just happened.  That made him frightened, so he hurriedly packed his gear and drove out of the area.

    The whole time we talked he seemed nervous, his hands visibly shaking at times.  He confided that he was afraid that reporters would hound him, and asked me to keep his name secret.  He would only give me a number for a mobile phone which belonged to a friend, but promised to return my calls (which he did, up to a point).   He anxiously asked me if I thought that the CIA or MI-5 might break into his home to try to steal the video.  Since such a tape would be the most important evidence of non-human involvement in the circles, I replied that his fears might be justified, and advised him to keep the original footage hidden at another location.  (Many people gave him the same advice, and yet, weeks later he was still showing the original tape in his camera -- a camera which he said sometimes chewed up tapes!)

    I must say that John came across as very convincing, and on this emotional basis I tended to believe he was for real, and thus the video was probably all we hoped for.

    After he left, my friend, Ulrich, a crop circle investigator from Germany, who had been there all during this discussion, said that he remembered seeing Wheyleigh, a complete stranger to the crop circle community, in the pub the night before the Olivers Castle formation arrived.  And Ulrich observed that Wheyleigh had announced conspicuously that, despite the wretched weather, he was going to camp out at Oliver’s Castle in hopes of seeing something.

    A few days later, John called to let me know that he was going on a trip to France for a couple of weeks, and he would give me a copy of the tape when he got back.  I would have to endure the suspense a while longer!  Meanwhile, everyone was engaging in "telephone whispers" about the mysterious video.  Some reported it showed a crop circle being born beneath a complicated structure of lights, like a Christmas tree; others said it showed nothing that could be seen clearly at all.

Viewing IT at last!

    Three weeks later I was starting to worry that John had forgotten about me, but then he called and suggested we have a secret meeting at The Wagon and Horses.  The Wagon [yes, they spell it with two Gs] is a beautiful thatched roof pub near Avebury, which used to be the favourite croppie haunt until the more secluded Barge became the hip hang out.   But researchers still go to the Wagon occasionally, so it didn’t seem the very best choice for a clandestine meeting (he secretly met Colin there, too).

    Ulrich and I arrived at the colourful old pub 15 minutes early, and before we had time to order drinks, Wheyleigh walked in.  From a battered attaché case he withdrew a VHS copy of the coveted video and handed it to me.  There was no videotape player available at the pub, but John had brought his camera along with the original 8mm tape still in it.

    Like most people seeing it through the camera’s eyepiece, all I saw on the first viewing, was little balls of light zipping around over the field and flying off.   Then, lo! I realized there the formation had appeared in the field while I was distracted by the lights.  I rewound the tape and watched again, ignoring the lights this time, and I could see the design materialize.  It was all beautiful and magical to behold!

    Then Ulrich watched it twice, and since I now had a VHS copy that we could watch to our hearts content back at the house, I resisted the urge to play the original yet again.

    I dearly wanted to be able to use the video in a TV program that I would be making about the year’s crop circles.  But I also knew the footage would be much too important to the world for me to just keep it to myself, and I told John so.  He said he was glad I felt that way, and suggested that I try to get it distributed as widely as possible, both in England and around the world, as soon as the tests proving its authenticity had been performed.  We ultimately agreed that I would be his exclusive agent (he didn't say that he had made that same arrangement with Colin, already).

    Then, into our supposedly secret meeting, walked Lee Winterston, who somehow knew we would be there.  Lee had also been shooting a crop circle program that summer.  He was one of the people who had stayed at The Barge after the last bell on that night when the camera had been passed around, and he wanted very much to get his hands on the astonishing footage, too.  (An American circle investigator, Marge Krstien, recalls talking to Winterston a few days before the event, and gazing into the distance, he had told her he wished he could film a crop circle forming.  Make of that what you will.)

    When Lee learned John had the original video with him, he suggested we should all go to a TV facility that Lee used, up in Swindon, where we could view the footage on professional equipment, with slow motion and enlargement capability.  The place was only half an hour away, and Lee offered to make a high quality copy of the tape for John, so the original wouldn't have to be used any more.  John asked me if we should, and I advised him that it was an excellent idea. Before long we were all driving North in three separate vehicles.

WabesCar1996.jpg (20388 bytes)

    Along the way I took some documentary footage of our cars driving to this historic first analysis of the mysterious footage.  My shots of John’s car later turned out to be evidence that Wheyleigh wasn’t who he said he was.


    Once we arrived at the video facility, Lee quickly got one of the technicians to set up the slo-motion and enlarging equipment.  As soon as I started to document the studio with my video camera, John asked me not to get him in the picture, reminding me he wanted to be anonymous.  I pleaded that this was an historic moment, and I wouldn't use shots of him without his permission, but he insisted I shouldn't film him at all.  He also asked me not to use the shots I had taken of his car.  However, as fate would have it, he walked across my camera’s field of view on his way to the "loo" [that’s English slang for "toilet].

    Then, a telling little thing happened in this room full of equipment.  John took his 8mm cassette out of his camera, and without hesitation, went over to one of the racks full of many different kinds of professional video machines, popped his tape right into the only 8mm machine in the room, and immediately punched the play button – just like he was familiar with the industrial equipment.  Id bet dollars to donuts that he had prior experience with that particular brand of professional machine, in order to recognize and use it so effortlessly.

    Then the tape was copied over to the Slow-mo system, and our careful inspection of the footage began.  It certainly made a difference to see it in colour and on a big, high resolution monitor.  The brief drama looked like something out of Disney's "Fantasia," the sprightly little pixie lights glowing a bright, bluish white.   We watched them fast and slow, forward and backwards, and at times under high magnification, for over an hour.

    The crucial shot begins with two balls of light (BOLs), which appear to be about three feet in diameter, already in the lower middle of the screen ("A" in the diagram), skimming clockwise over the field of wheat at something like a hundred miles an hour.


    Lee soon discovered a third BOL, which appears on only the (suspiciously) first frame of the shot.  Trivia fans, take note: it is near the bottom of the frame (X on diagram), to the right of CENTRE, next to the trees.  It is gone in the second frame, never to be seen again.

    About two seconds into the shot, the crop formation starts to materialize, centre screen.   And at the same time, in the extreme upper part of the picture a very dim light (B) flies behind a tree, reappears, crosses the distant hedge, and flies towards the middle hedge.  (This light is visible only on good copies of the video.  In fact it may be difficult to spot until it reaches point C.  By then it has spawned a smaller partner.)

    Meanwhile, some five seconds into the scene, the first pair of lights has swerved away from the crop formation, one, apparently flying lower, goes through the middle hedge at the far side of the field, and they glide off into the distance.  While it’s difficult to see the effect of the light going through the hedge on some home televisions, we looked carefully at it under digital magnification in the studio, and there is no doubt that the light is made to appear as if it goes through, not over, the shrubbery.   This is important, because it indicates how low the lights would be flying.

    So, the BOLs are only a few feet above the wheat, yet they throw no light on the crop, even though they are several orders of magnitude brighter than the ambient illumination.

    After the second set of lights (B) flies around over the crop formation, they zip out of the picture frame twice (D and G).  The camera makes no attempt to follow them (!) as they zip off the edges of the frame and disappear briefly from sight.   Everyone who sees the tape remarks that this seems very odd – hardly human!   Wouldn’t you have tried your best to keep the lights in your viewfinder?  (Defenders reply that Wheyleigh must have been guided by the circle-making intelligence to point and hold his camera where the crop formation was about to appear.  Later, I’ll tell you what I think was the cause of this exceptionally peculiar camera work.)

    The reader should know that I have been involved in computer animation since the pioneering days, more than 20 years ago.  I’ve witnessed the technology evolve from its crude beginnings into the photo-realistic dinosaurs of Jurassic Park

    One thing that troubled me greatly the whole time we were scrutinizing the slow-mos and enlargements, was the fact that the lights were not blurred in the direction of their motion.  They should have been elongated into fuzzy ovals by their rapid movement.   Only a high-speed shutter could have that result, yet the predawn light would have required a slow shutter speed, especially with video.)

    I admit that I deviously kept this problem to myself for the moment.  I realized, if the tape was real, John might be insulted or embarrassed by my doubts, and besides, these were technical matters that video engineers would certainly be better qualified to address than he.  Furthermore, if it was a fake, I didn't want to let on that I smelled a rat.

    As soon as I got back to Alton Barnes, I made calls to invite everyone who might be interested to come and view the famous tape at The Barge the next two evenings. Countless people came to see it, and we practically wore out the rewind button, playing the scene over and over. 

Pollyladyopenmouth.jpg (30356 bytes)

    Inevitably, the pro-and-con debate began.  At that point, the fact that the lights were not blurred in the direction of motion seemed the strongest argument against it, while apparent hand-held wiggling of the camera suggested to the contrary, that it was probably real.  (We all believed it would be extremely difficult to match layers of computer graphics with the shaky camera – more  on this shortly.)


    But, the more I thought about it, the more the prognosis didn't look good at all.  Then, a few days later I got a call from John Huckvale, who owns the Swindon video studio where we had been, and he had discovered what I refer to as the smoking gun.  His discovery makes it very, very, nearly impossible for the video to be genuine.  ALL other arguments are moot and meaningless unless this point can be adequately addressed.  I shall explain:

    We all know how movie film is a long strip of tiny pictures called frames.  Video frames, on the other hand, are recorded on tape as electromagnetic pulses – which are invisible, so you can’t hold the tape up to the light and see the pictures.   Duh.

    Now, here's the crucial technical quirk of video that you must understand to realize why the Olivers Castle tape is a fraud: Each video frame is composed of two "fields," which are the odd numbered lines and the even numbered lines that comprise every TV picture.  All the odd lines (first field) are scanned initially, and then the even lines (second field) are scanned.  These fields are recorded and displayed sequentially, one after the other (1/50th of a second apart on the British, "PAL" system, which displays 25 frames per second).  Each field shows the whole scene at a slightly different moment in time.  THEY ARE EFFECTIVELY TWO SEPARATE FRAMES in their own right, except that they can’t be viewed separately when you pause your VCR.

    When you stop a movie projector you get a single still picture.  But a frame of video, composed of those two fields – two separate pictures captured an instant apart – often flickers if there's significant motion during that time.  Try pausing a shot of a football in flight, or anything moving fast, and you'll see what I mean.

    The balls of light on the original video show no such flickering when the tape is paused, despite their apparent hundred-mile-per-hour speed!  This could not possibly be if they were captured with a normal video camera.  This isn't my personal opinion, this is a matter of fact.  Video frames have two fields.  The lights should move slightly between each of the fields.  They do not!

    But computer animation can produce exactly that result.  In fact, computer systems have the option to render scenes with, or without, motion between the fields.  But it takes longer for the computer to render with the fields properly.   It also takes considerably longer to render motion blur.  And time was a very important factor in this job, because Wheyleigh was committed to showing the tape at the Barge that night.

    At the risk of beating a dead horse long into oblivion, consider if, instead of a video, we were dealing with motion picture film here.  And what if the lights on the film were motionless for two frames, then jumped to another position in the third frame, where they again held still for two frames before jumping again, and so on.  Everyone would immediately realize that something was very seriously wrong.  Well, the exact same thing is afoul with the Olivers Castle tape, except the abnormality is hidden within the two overlapping fields of each video frame.  If only I could hold the tape up to the light and show you the pairs of motionless fields!

    So, basically, the lights had to be animated with a computer and added to the scene afterward, as was the appearance of the crop formation itself.  Its not unlike how Tom Hanks was put into the scenes with JFK in "Forrest Gump."  The OC video is a hoax, plain and simple. 

    I realize that the True Believers have found animation experts who have said that it would take days or weeks to fake the 8-second scene.  I don’t know how to politely respond!  (I reach for my gun when people say they are experts!)  They are just, flat wrong.  Period.  You don’t have to be an expert to know that there is supposed to be motion in the pairs of fields in a video frame.   (To give the "experts the benefit of a doubt, the motionless fields are very subtle.  It took us some 20 man hours to discover them – and months to reverse engineer the whole video.) 

    Unless you are very familiar with computer animation, it doesn't matter how long you puzzle over the problem.  For example, a certain motion picture director (who'll remain nameless to spare embarrassment), stated after several viewings, that s/he thought the video had to be real because, in order to do the special effects the video would first have to be transferred to film, and the efx done using rear-screen projection.  Then the film would have to be transferred back to tape again!   Obviously the film developing time alone would preclude a hoax being done in one day – so I had to be wrong.  Sadly, this movie professional obviously hadn't a clue about the recent advances of computer animation.  (No matter how wrong I might be about everything else, film and rear-screen projection are dinosaur technologies that don’t hold a candle to the speed and quality of digital effects.)


    Special effects experts and amateurs alike realize that the one, really big hurdle the hoaxers faced was the shaky hand-held camera effect.  It’s absolutely true that it would be formidably difficult, and very time consuming to combine animated effects with a live action shot that wiggles like this one apparently does.  But is it what it appears?   Experienced efx technicians get a kick out of coming up with end runs around problems like this one, and there is a brilliant solution to this little puppy.  Namely: don’t shoot the actual live action hand held, stupid, use a tripod

    I believe that rock-steady footage was shot at Oliver’s Castle, so the animated lights and materializing crop formation could be easily superimposed.  Finally – get this – the multi-layered scene was re-videoed off of a high quality studio monitor with the 8mm video camera!  This is where the wiggle was introduced to make it look like a genuine hand-held shot.  This trick doesn’t, even remotely, require the skill or resources of a George Lucas, as some crusaders confidently proclaim.

    It also explains why the cameraman doesn't follow the flying lights, as human nature would demand – because the original shot would have had to "pan" left and right.  

    The most impressive technical analysis on the video has been done by Jim Dilettoso, a well known electronics analyst who has studied hundreds of UFO tapes and films in recent years.   Not having heard about Huckvale’s discovery of the motionless fields, Jim concentrated on the non-image portions of the video signal (the so-called vertical interval, blanking pulse, sub carrier, and pedestal).  He found no evidence of the video having ever been in the digital realm.  If the video had been manipulated by a computer, he insisted, there should be a "digital fingerprint" in the vertical interval, but there was none.

    When I met him later, in 1998, I told him about the trick of re-videoing the scene to create the hand-held effect, and pointed out that this would also result in a vertical interval with no digital fingerprint.  He acknowledged this was a simple, low-tech solution to the problem.


    [If you’ve had enough tech-talk, you can skip this section, in which I’ll briefly describe some of the other efx techniques that were probably employed in making the video] 

    The balls of light and their graceful flight paths were easy as pie to create, using computer animation.  Perfectly smooth curves, with acceleration, deceleration, and gradual changes in luminosity, are trivial to control within the digital 3-D environment.   Creating flight paths which have only to approach from the distance, then curve approximately around the place where the formation appears, and finally fly away, would take an experienced computer operator only about an hour to achieve.  If the lights had been animated to precisely trace out the shape of the formation while each circle appeared, then it would have taken much longer to do.  (Who among us was not surprised that the lights didn't actually define the design?)

    Making the lights look like they fly though the hedges was a nice touch.  The easiest way to achieve that effect would be to utilize a program like "PhotoShop."   A little dab of colour that matches the hedge would be painted over the layer with the lights.  The digital paint can have adjustable transparency, so the lights can appear to shine through the leaves as some of them do, rather than totally disappear.

    Viewers frequently point to the lights going through the hedges as an indication that the video is probably real, because they think it unlikely that an animator would take the time to include such small details, or to even think of them.  On the contrary!   Animators take pride in coming up with subtleties exactly like this.  Going beyond the obvious lends authenticity to their artwork.  Many viewers don’t consciously notice the lights going through the hedges until it’s pointed out to them.  But subliminally, the effect adds greatly to the realism of the scene.   "The best special effects are the ones you don’t recognize are effects," as we say in Hollywood.

    The appearance of the crop formation is quite another matter from the lights.   Whether the formation itself was genuine or hoaxed by accomplices, a technique called "digital cut and paste" would be used to make the crop formation invisible at the beginning of the sequence.  Areas of the picture that contain standing crop can be electronically copied and moved to cover all the various parts of the formation.  Unlike paper cut-outs, these patches have their edges perfectly blended, are virtually undetectable, and each takes only seconds to do.  Later the patches were dissolved away to reveal the circles, one at a time.

    A soft-edged, oval wipe would be used to make the big circle appear to expand from the middle.  The fact that standing crop at the edge of the expanding circle is not seen until the circle reach full size, is a consequence of the oval wipe technique.   Animating expanding wipes for all the circles would have been prohibitive, time-wise, so they all simply fade on.

    Having thousands of hours experience with computer animation and video production, I submit, with confidence, the following conservative timeline for the creation of the Oliver’s Castle Lights video:

5:00 AM - Shot of the crop formation taken

8:00 - Arrive at studio in Bristol (with time out for a good breakfast!)

9:00 – Video footage transferred from the camera into the computer

10:00 – Experimentation with color and shape of lights

10:30 - Light flight paths created

11:30 - Wipes and related effects for crop circle materialization
(sandwiches ordered in for working lunch)

3:00 PM - Digital paint box work for lights going through hedges

5:00 – Camera-shake added ( "digital fingerprint" simultaneously removed)

6:00 - Job done (take an hour for a well-deserved dinner)

    The finished tape could easily have been at The Barge by 9:00 PM.  Since "Wheyleigh" didn't actually get there until after 11:00, I suspect something went wrong, and he needed a couple of additional hours to perfect his handiwork.

    The venerable pilot and photographer, Busty Taylor says the shadow angle in the scene suggests that the shot was taken in the afternoon, rather than the morning.   He may well be right.  If so, then the shortened working time due to the late acquisition of the footage would require the animation studio to be nearby.  With little more than a powerful desktop computer and a high resolution monitor being required to do the job, "Wheyleigh" could have used a B&B in the vicinity as his clandestine studio.


    Desperate to maintain the supernatural reputation of the video, some Believers have suggested that the CircleMakers somehow caused the motionless field/frame aberration on purpose.  Well, sigh, I concur that it would be trivial for an advanced technology to detect when Wheyleigh’s camera was about to capture each frame, and to then position anti-gravity balls of light motionless while each pair of video fields were being recorded – repositioning them for each succeeding frame (exactly like some extraterrestrial Wallace & Grommet clay animation!).  But, why?!  Well, to impress us with their awesome, alien powers, by creating this wonderful, mind-boggling puzzle, of course!

    One of the people who has put this theory to me is a computer-savvy professional who concluded, "We just don’t know the motivations of the intelligence we are contemplating."  And I must say that it is not absolutely, utterly inconceivable that we could be tested in this way – perhaps as a test of our blind faith.

    But I doubt it.  Confronting us with a video aberration that exactly mimics the appearance of computer graphics would be a very underhanded trick!  The CircleMakers know us well enough to realize that such a thing would only cause confusion and acrimonious arguments among us.  The Circle Maker’s renowned sense of humour is subtle, but not sadistic.  There would be much better ways for them to prove their technical superiority.  If they wanted to, they might even have levitated the camera right out of Wheyleigh’s hands and flown it out and around, following the lights!   And, while our faith is most certainly being tested by the Circle phenomenon, blind faith, I hope, would be one of the things being weeded out!

    No, I’m sure the video was made by mischievous or malevolent humans, and their goal was precisely to cause confusion and acrimony!  They've been laughing their asses off ever since.


    John Wheyleigh had refused to give me, or anyone, his personal phone number or address.  As I said earlier, he did provide the cell phone number of "a friend" of his.  And he did call me back on four different occasions, after I left messages at that number.

    Then, late in August, I left one message, tactfully saying that I thought there might be some digital artifacts on his video.  He was never been heard from since by any of us (not as "Wheyleigh," anyhow!).  To no avail, I left more messages, pleading that, even if his video was an animation, it still was a beautiful illustration of what a crop circle forming might look like.  The phone number was disconnected a month or so later.

    The following summer, Nippon TV decided to make a documentary about the Olivers Castle video.  Don’t ask me how, but they had reason to suspect that "Wheyleigh" was actually a man named John Wabe, who is the co-owner of a video special effects studio (!) in Bristol.  The NTV producers made an appointment to have Wabe do some efx work for them – with the intent of showing him the video without warning, and catching his surprised reaction on camera. 

    While they went into the studio, I was stationed outside, waiting to be called in to identify Wabe as Wheyleigh when the time came.  But Wabe discovered that a trap was being set, and sneaked out the back door while the TV crew was talking with his partner.   He had changed his hair colour and grown a little beard, but after a few seconds I recognized him.  I grabbed my camera and turned it on, but before it was ready to record, Wabe had started his car and begun to back out of his parking space.  He saw me running towards him, and did a double take.  Then he waved at me, with an expression that said, "Nya, nya, you can’t catch me!" and sped off with a smile on his face.

    As he zoomed away, I got a shot of his car – the very same as the one "Wheyleigh" had been driving the previous year. 

WabesCar1996.jpg (20388 bytes) WaybesCar997.jpg (26311 bytes)
"Wheyleigh’s" car in 1996     Wabe’s car in 1997

    Although these pictures should be proof that would put the whole matter to rest, there are people who insist that I must be mistaken (or lying).  Or the CIA paid off the real Wheyleigh, took his car, and gave it to Wabe, to set me up so I would continue to spread disinformation like this essay here.  What can I say?  Believe what you will.

    A day or so later (I don’t remember exactly) Lee Winterson made a presentation in The Barge about the bungled Nippon "raid."  Lee had helped the Japanese TV company to locate Wabe’s studio, and he had been outside in their van with me when Wabe rushed out of the building.  Lee had ran after the fleeing car, shouting, "Why did you do it?  Come back and talk to us!"

    The room at the pub that night was packed with curious croppies.  Lee began by announcing that Wabe had refused to grant an interview with Nippon, because he was under contract with one of the largest American TV networks.  Wabe said he was making a program with NBC, about how he fooled the world (shades of Doug & Dave).  After the Barge presentation (which concluded with my shot of Wabe’s car), heated debate broke out among the Believers in the OC Video vs the Believers of Lee and I.

    Nearly everyone agreed that the NBC program should clear everything up.  Several people knew what "Wheyleigh" looked like, from that night when he passed his camera around at the Barge.  If Wabe were the same guy, there would be many beside myself who could testify to the fact.  (Pre-emptive damage control by the conspiracy theorists began that evening, when they floated the idea that Wheyleigh and his video were still absolutely real, but he had been bought off or threatened by the forces of evil, made to change his name, and forced to work at the video special effects studio.)  

    To my frustration, Wabe’s "How I Fooled The World" program never materialized.  More than one supporter of the OC video has smugly rubbed my nose in the fact.  Wabe is a fraud, and his car is a hoax, they insist.  Sigh.  

    Now, in 1999, Colin reports that Wabe has made a program with Nippon TV, "confessing" that he created the video.  Colin has seen it and confirms that my analysis of how the video was fabricated is essentially correct.  I am confident that the truth will come out at last, that the people who saw Wheyleigh at the Barge will identify him as Wabe, and the matter will finally be buried.  (I also know that some people will not accept any evidence whatsoever that challenges their heartfelt beliefs – no way, no how.  [I love you!])  It saddens me to think of all the sweat and tears that have been shed by both sides in this debate.  From the beginning I truly wished I were wrong.


    Late in the last century someone put the fossil jaw of a primitive man together with the skull of an ancient ape, and proclaimed to have discovered "the missing link."  Despite rational arguments that it was hoax, the Piltdown skull held a place of honour in the British museum for several decades.  Supporters of Darwin’s theory of evolution wanted desperately for the skull to prove them right, and clung tenaciously to the fossil.   Ultimately, of course, Piltdown Man was acknowledged to be a fraud.  But Darwin survived the fiasco, thank you very much.  And the Circles will survive the Oliver’s Castle Video.

The End (At last!)

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