Fake UFO over downtown Buffalo

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – There’s no mistake about it; people see things in the sky that they can’t explain.

“We have to keep an open mind. But we have to vet it completely,” said Cassidy Nicholas, a Western New York area field investigator with the Mutual UFO Network known as MUFON, which tracks and investigates UFO sightings.

Most sightings can be explained as man-made or natural. A small percentage of sightings are classified as unknown. But even then unknown doesn’t mean the unidentified flying object is some kind of alien spacecraft. It just means that it can’t be explained, at least for the moment.

Then there are sightings and stories that could rival some of the best fiction found on dusty old bookshelves at the corner second hand shop – it’s the hoax or prank.

And with today’s high-tech computer animation, anything is possible.

“Oh my gosh we get hoaxes. We get hoaxes that are fabricated completely,” Nicholas said.

She says hoaxes, and some good ones, are reported every day.

“The field investigator has to go in and say, ‘Where’s your proof? Where were you? Where were you standing? What was it like outside? What were you seeing?’ And most of the time we can immediately recognize them.”

Just try searching the Internet using the term “UFO.” All sorts of interesting videos, photographs and articles pop up, sometimes making it tough to know what’s real.

MUFON Field Investigator Jack Fay, a retired New York State police captain, says sometimes a person’s story builds to the point where they’re not even sure what’s real anymore.

“They’re not lying anymore because now they actually believe it. So, they’re not really lying. That doesn’t mean the incident occurred,” Fay said. “It just means they’re not lying. They believe it.”

According to MUFON’s digital database, there have been nearly 3,000 sightings worldwide classified as intentional hoaxes, with about 2,600 in the United States and 116 in New York State.

How easy is it to stage and fake a UFO sighting?  News 4 decided to find out by enlisting Kurt Murphy, an Emmy award winning graphic artist for WIVB-TV.

“You just try to mimic real life as much as possible,” Murphy explained as he worked his magic on a large computer screen.

Using a shaky smartphone video clip of the sky above Niagara Square in downtown Buffalo, Murphy went to work building in tracking points to follow the movement of the video.

“It’s actually tracking the camera and it’s turning as the camera turns too which is amazing.”

The object won’t match the camera movements without the tracking which is a red flag for anyone with limited knowledge of computer animation.

Of course, Murphy needed to select an object for the fake video. He decided to go with a 3D cylinder-shaped object. In this case, an aerosol can.

“I can move that and mimic what the camera’s doing. And I can move it forward into different places,” Murphy explained.

It took about two hours to build and render the fake UFO video clip. The object moved above and behind buildings against a beautiful blue sky in Niagara Square before vanishing into thin air.

The results were pretty impressive. And all it took was some desktop animation, 3D software and a graphic artist with some flare for science fiction.

Kevin Williams, planetarium director at Buffalo State College, admits that a lot of UFO pictures and videos on the Internet don’t appear to be very aerodynamic.

“You would think that something that would be traveling through an atmosphere would need to be… it wouldn’t look like a top hat.”

Or, in the case of our fakery, an aerosol can of all things.

“A lot of videos that you’ll see online that come up. That you’ll go. Wow, that’s really, really impressive. Look at that. That is so cool,” MUFON’s Cassidy Nicholas added. “And what it actually is, is somebody with CGI (Computer-generated imagery)  that knows how to do video that is working these things in and shading them properly. That is a very well elaborate hoax event.”

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