Set among Lido Marina Village's covey of sailboat shops, restaurants and clothing stores, Southern California's only hologram gallery might be mistaken for an optical illusion.

Newport Holograms, with its three-dimensional watches winking enticingly from behind the display windows, catches the curious eye. But once inside the dark shop, one may become uneasy. Walls lined with 3-D laser reproductions pulse with an eerie greenish glow. Under closer inspection, the ghostly images appear to reach out from their frames and into space.

What type of retailer would surround himself with these all-too-lifelike portraits of skeletons, lions' heads and Hollywood glamour queens?

David Schaffner, owner of Newport Holograms, sits quietly at his desk across from a three-dimensional portrait of a look-alike Marilyn Monroe, who silently blows kisses at passers-by.

"Technically, a hologram is a good image without any sound," he said. "Holograms are my love, my life, my work."

Since 1988, holograms have been his obsession.

While visiting a relative in Dallas, Schaffner discovered holography at a store in the area. "On our way downtown, I wondered what the big deal was. I mean, that we'd drive all the way into town to see these hologram things," he said. "But they blew me away. I saw opening a gallery as an opportunity to be in on the cutting edge of a new art form."

Instinct, and good sense, led Schaffner to open his doors in well-heeled, upbeat Newport Beach.

"The people here, both tourists and locals, enjoy being in on what's new and different," he said. "My goal is to give the physical nature of the gallery enough versatility to provide optimum creativity in displaying the pieces."

The word "hologram" derives from the Greek holos and gramma , meaning "total drawing." A hologram is actually a glass plate coated with a high-resolution, light-sensitive emulsion. A single laser beam travels along low-frequency tables toward an object, passes through a lens and splits into two beams. One beam establishes a light reference on the plate, the other beam records the image. Illumination of the hologram lends the illusion its three-dimensional fullness and depth.

The process is expensive, however. Master plates can cost as much as $10,000 to produce.

While purchasing a hologram may be cost-prohibitive for most, the shop also carries other hi-tech visuals, such as laser discs and 3-D jewelry. Pieces at the shop retail for as little as $15 and go as high as $15,000 (both prices include frames and lighting).

Costs aside, it is the novelty of the items that brings people into the shop.

"(With) holograms, as with all optical illusions, seeing is believing," Schaffner said.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (sometimes open until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday).

Address: Lido Marina Village, 3424 Via Oporto, Suite 102, Newport Beach.

Telephone: (714) 675-1337.

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