On the early morning of Sunday 11th August 1996, perhaps the most controversial event ever, occurred in the world of crop circle research.
A six petalled crop formation appeared beneath the slopes of Oliver's Castle hill fort, just to the north of Devizes in Wiltshire. Not unusual you may think. But this time, the whole event had been caught on video.
Less than twelve hours later, a young man, initially wanting to remain anonymous, turned up in The Barge public house with what was soon to become one of the most hotly discussed video's in the history of cerealogy.
The video was a short sequence, only some twenty four seconds long, but showing not only the creation of the crop circle (see front cover for diagram), but also the movement of alleged UFO balls of light. Could this be the Holy Grail of crop circle research?
The brief clip started with a wide view of the valley lying to the west. This then zoomed down to an empty field below, and then zoomed back to the original wide shot of the valley. This was presumably to show the local terrain and was filmed before the crop circle appeared.
There then appears to be a brief edit in the film, because it immediately jumps to a zoomed in view of the field (still no crop circle present) with two balls of light travelling from right to left across the field of view. As they reach the left side of the frame they circle round travelling away from the camera and fly towards the top right of the frame. As they get to about half way across the frame, the crop formation starts to appear.
First the large central circle appears, followed by the outer satellite circles, before the interlocking paths are laid down last. The whole creation sequence lasts just two to three seconds. Throughout the formation of the circle, the balls of light continue to move to the top right, before veering to the left and appearing to go through the hedge on the opposite side of the field. Their brightness appears to dim slightly at this point.
Just before they leave the frame at the top of the screen, a third ball of light appears from nowhere, seemingly from the hedge in about the middle of the screen. This moves rapidly towards the right, just missing the top right part of the formation. It disappears off the screen to the right, only to re-appear travelling to the left slightly lower down, circling around the formation.
As it moves to the left it is joined by a fourth ball just above it. Both balls fly past the formation and disappear off the left hand side of the frame. A second later they re-appear, flying to the right, obviously having circled round in an arc wider than the zoom setting on the camera.
One appears to fade out at this point, whilst the last one continues to fly to the right before leaving the frame on the top right, just below the level of the hedge.
The video clip then stops.
When I first viewed the video in The Barge I was initially impressed. In fact, who wouldn't be? The video appears to show indisputable proof of a non man-made crop formation. Just what researchers have been looking for!
However, I never take things at face value and, fearing another Doug and Dave type scam to try and set the subject back again, I wanted to take a much closer look at the video and do my own analysis, especially as my professional line of work is with computers and graphical effects.
The first apparent flaws I noticed in the video concern the actual view of the field. At all times during the creation and subsequent flight of the balls of light, the camera remains stationary fixed at a preset zoom. By coincidence the zoom is exactly set so that the completed crop formation exactly fills the field of view without having to zoom out or move the camera.
In fact the camera shows a distinct lack of movement, almost as if mounted on a tripod. For example, the balls of light fly out of view a couple of times and no attempt is made to follow their movement - surprising if the cameraman was witnessing actual UFOs flying around.
If you get the chance to watch the video for yourself, use the telegraph pole in the field as a marker for movement. It remains in exactly the same position throughout.
Also, the action on the video seems to contradict actual ground observations. Visiting the formation on the ground, the outlying pathways go underneath the lay of the satellite circles, presumably being formed first. However, on the video, the satellite circles can be clearly seen to form before the pathways.
The shadows in the inner, large circle also don't seem right, but due to the quality of the video I viewed, it was difficult to analyse them to satisfaction.
On 11th August sunrise was at 5.44am, which is after the time when the video was allegedly filmed. The sun would rise from behind the cameraman's back, to the East - and don't forget that it was filmed looking down the valley, so Oliver's Castle itself would mask the sun's initial rays. Before sunrise there would be no visible shadows, and in fact I'm doubtful if the light would be as bright as it seemed on the video, but this is my subjective view in the absence of an interview with the cameraman.
Although initially wanting to remain anonymous, I can reveal the cameraman's name as John Wheyleigh (JW), from Bath. I'm revealing this because all attempts to contact him have so far failed, and I believe knowledge of his name may help others identify him.
Initially when he arrived at the Barge on the day of the formation he was very nervous and visibly shaken, fearing that the MOD or CIA may be after him. He wanted to speak to Colin Andrews or Peter Sorensen. Peter was in the Barge and was one of the first people to view the video.
Colin Andrews subsequently obtained the video by signing a contract with John Wheyleigh. The details of this contract are unknown, but it was alleged to allow Colin to handle world-wide media interest in the video.
Initially, people were impressed. Word got around and quickly the entire crop circle community knew of the footage. However, after a subsequent showing in the Barge approx one week later, when I was present, the general opinion was beginning to turn to doubt, especially when I pointed out some of my observations.
How did JW know where the crop formation was going to appear in order to preset the zoom on his camera before it appeared? Why didn't he naturally follow the balls of light around the field? After all, they could be about to create another crop formation in a nearby field.
Both myself and Peter Sorensen decided to analyse the film in greater detail. We played it through on a high quality, single frame video. The first thing I noticed was that freezing on a single frame revealed that the balls of light were perfectly formed with no motion blur. As they were moving quite rapidly across the field of view, you would expect to see some kind of blur on a single frame.
A video film is made up of a number of frames, individual images being shown in quick succession, if you like. In fact, a normal video runs at 25 frames per second.
Generally each frame of video consists of what is known as two fields. If you look carefully at a TV picture, you'll see that the picture is made up from a great many lines going vertically down the screen. 625 in all, forming a complete picture.
These 625 lines form two fields - one consisting of all the evenly numbered lines and the other with all the odd numbered lines. The two fields together form what is known as an 'interlaced' picture.
The initial sequence of the video, ie. that showing the zoom, seems to be interlaced. ie. both fields are present. However, the animation bit (where the crop circle actually appears) seems to be non-interlaced, only consisting of a single field. This then reverts back to interlaced at the end of the sequence.
This is highly suspicious and would imply that some kind of computer effect could have been used to generate the crop circle appearing - with no interlace.
This leads to two possibilities; Either JW was involved in the hoaxing of the video, by setting up the camera and filming the empty field before it was made, then making it himself or waiting whilst friends made it and then filming the completed crop formation before editing together the two pieces using a video mixer with a circular wipe facility and finally superimposing the balls of light over the top, or he was lucky enough to visit the formation just after it had already appeared, filmed the formation and then manually removed it in a studio on a computer, before again superimposing the balls over the top.
Out of these two scenarios, the first is more likely, and easier. However, in the interests of research and amid growing arguments as to the genuineness of the video, I decided to produce my own video, just to see how difficult to make it really would be. Some 'believers' had claimed that it would be impossible to fake without expensive, professional video and computer equipment - something presumably JW didn't have access to.
Well, neither do I, except a home computer fitted with a PAL video mixer and genlock card (to output and mix computer graphics with a TV picture). If I could do it within twelve hours, then I reckon any hoaxer intent on debunking the subject and with access to a video studio would easily be able to produce it.
I set myself a limit of four hours, just to see if it was possible. To my surprise, my end result was quite acceptable, and would be even higher quality had I given myself more time. As it happened, I completed it in just under three hours.
For reference, and for those who haven't seen my version, I visited the field later in the day, after creation, and filmed some ten minutes of footage on a Hi-8mm camcorder. This was for my own research and reference. Being a computer programmer I was able to write my own animation software as I couldn't find any suitable 'commercial' software. This may be one reason why people say it can't be done.
I took a sequence of footage from my original 8mm tape and digitised it into the computer to obtain a static colour 'scan' of the field in question - in broad daylight and containing the completed crop circle. I then darkened the video to make it look like early morning. This was easy, using a standard 'grey' fade set to approx 85% fadeout. I then re-scanned this into the computer and 'painted' out the crop circle using a paintbox package - so as to obtain a field with no crop circle in it. (see below)
Having obtained a 'blank' field in the computer, I then wrote a small program to take a real-time video source (my original 8mm tape) and do a circular fade of the computer image with no crop formation. I did this in three parts to replicate the JW video. ie. the main circle appears, then the outer circles and finally the pathways. The computer handled all the animation sequence here and I recorded the output onto VHS tape. I recorded onto standard VHS tape and not professional tape so that the graininess of the copy would make the end result look more authentic. This gave me a VHS video copy of the crop formation appearing in the field. I now needed to add the balls of light.
Adding the balls of light was the easiest job, again, having written my own computer software. I played the VHS tape of the crop formation appearing (in approx 3 seconds) through the computer and whilst it was going through the computer I moved the mouse around the screen to trace out the movement I wanted the balls to take.
I could edit the path if I made mistakes. The computer stored the mouse movements and allowed me to replay the sequence, substituting a 'ball of light' for the previous mouse movements. I then replayed it and edited it until I liked the result. At this stage I could also edit the fade between video and computer, to make the balls of light seemingly grow dim or brighter depending on position. It would also be possible using my software to add 'random' X/Y movements to the path of the balls, to simulate camera shake.
Again, I replayed the sequence in the computer until I liked it. When complete, and I was happy with it, I re-recorded the whole thing back onto VHS tape - being careful to simulate the correct interlace information in each frame (this is manually controllable on my computer system).
The whole sequence took me just under three hours to produce from start to finish, and includes camera-shake and camera-movement to follow the balls of light around the field - which the original JW video did not. In all, I was reasonably pleased with it, and I could certainly produce a better version given a longer time. I deliberately rushed it because I wanted to see just how quickly it would take to produce acceptable results.
Free copies of my 'computer created' version are available by sending me a blank VHS tape and return postage. Only PAL versions are currently available.
From a technical viewpoint, the video is very well made. The movement of the balls of light is very 'fluid' and smooth. The action appears to take place in real-time and it looks impressive. However, when subjected to scrutiny and technical analysis, major flaws start to appear. I am personally convinced that it is a hoax.
Whoever perpetrated the hoax obviously had access to fairly elaborate video equipment and computers, although it would not require large amounts of money, as has been suggested by some researchers. I estimate you could do it with under £3000.00 worth of equipment. However, it is well made and was obviously planned. Was it an attempt to fool Colin Andrews? who was first researcher to be approached. Colin has a high profile in the world of crop circle research and any organised attempt by the hoaxers to discredit him would surely need careful planning.
At the time of printing, Colin has publicly stated that he too is sceptical of the footage, following his own analysis. If the hoaxers aim was to mount another Doug and Dave blow, then it has back-fired.
We can't really analyse the video much further without interviewing, at length, John Wheyleigh, who took the video. However, he seems less than willing to come forward. To date, no one has managed to track him down to ask him further questions.
One further, interesting, observation was made by Joachim Koch, a German researcher, who noticed that the name of John Wheyleigh's colleague was a certain John Wabe - an unusual surname.
Readers who are familiar with the Alice Books - written by Lewis Carroll in the Victorian Era, may be interested in the following coincidence.
Alice falls asleep and dreams, both "Alice in Wonderland" and "Alice Through the Looking Glass".
Alice finds a book in which there is a nonsense poem called Jabberwocky which goes on a bit but the piece we're interested in is this bit; Later she meets up with Humpty Dumpty who looks like a big egg with a face and arms and legs.
"You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir," said Alice. "Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called 'Jabberwocky'?"
"Let's hear it," said Humpty Dumpty. "I can explain all the poems that ever were invented - and a good many that haven't been invented just yet."
This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated the first verse:
"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borograves
And the mome raths outgrabe."
"That's enough to begin with," Humpty Dumpty interrupted: "there are plenty of hard words there. 'Brillig' means four o'clock in the afternoon - the time when you begin broiling things for dinner."
"That'll do very well," said Alice: "and 'slithy'?"
"Well, 'slithy' means 'lithe and slimy'. 'Lithe' is the same as 'active'.
You see it's like a portmanteau - there are two meanings packed up into one word."
"I see it now," Alice remarked thoughtfully; "and what are 'toves'?"
"Well, 'toves' are something like badgers - they're something like lizards and they're something like corkscrews."
"They must be very curious-looking creatures."
"They are that," said Humpty Dumpty; "also they make their nests under sun-dials - also they live on cheese."
(Now we're getting there, folks)
"And what's to 'gyre' and to 'gimble'?"
"To 'gyre' is to go round and round like a gyroscope. To 'gimble' is to make holes like a gimlet."
"And 'the wabe' is the grass plot round a sun-dial, I suppose?" said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.
"Of course it is. It's called 'wabe' you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it -""And a long way beyond it on each side," Alice added.
So here we have Mr. Wabe - a grass plot around a sundial with toves going round and round in circles like a gyroscope.
An interesting coincidence I think you'll agree. Expect further reports in future issues.
I am in the process of producing a 'making of' video, illustrating with examples the techniques of video and photographic manipulation available by using computers. This will include, as an example, my reproduction of the Oliver's Castle video. This will be available early in December.
There have also been some recent discussions on the Internet as to the possible visibility of a second video camera in the pan shot towards the end of the original sequence, indicating that Mr Wheyleigh had two camera's setup. This is not visible in the copy I have, which extends to 24 seconds.
There are also rumours of a second, longer video clip available, extending to 49 seconds. Again, I have not seen this clip, so my analysis is only relevant to the original, short, sequence I saw in The Barge. Enigma readers can be sure of more information as and when I get it.
You may like to visit the links below, which give some more information into this case;
Millennium Research - a few words from Kris Sherwood, July 5th 1997
The Crop Circular - Freddy Silva's Analysis of the video, as well as the formation itself.