Bird-Man’s Resume Doesn’t Check Out: ‘Nobody Knows Him’
The resume of a man who claims to have achieved bird-like flight through the use of a winged contraption doesn’t check out.
The man, who identifies himself as Jarno Smeets, posted a video yesterday of the alleged first flight of the “Human Birdwings” project.
Although Wired’s preliminary analysis by physicist Rhett Allain suggests the video is not necessarily a fake, computer graphics and other experts are highly skeptical. What’s more, Wired could not confirm Smeets’ education and employment information posted on Facebook and LinkedIn.
A LinkedIn page for Jarno Smeets, which is linked from Smeets’ website, says that he worked at Pailton Steering Systems from 2008 to 2010. John Nollett, the group managing director for Pailton Engineering Limited, said there is no record of anyone by such a name.
“We checked with all of our divisions globally and nobody knows him. He’s never worked for us in any of our locations,” Nollett told Wired. “Nobody knows him.”
Wired also contacted Coventry University in the UK, where Smeets’ online profiles claim he attended school from 2001 to 2005.
The university’s student records staff searched their full digital records database, which contains students’ names who attended from 1986 to the present. They told Wired they found only one entry for anyone by the last name of Smeets: Alexandra Smeets, who attended from 1999 to 2000. No record for Jarno Smeets could be found.
The LinkedIn resume and a Facebook page for Smeets also claim that he worked for Philips Design, part of the Philips multinational electronics company. Wired contacted Philips on Wednesday for comment, but no one responded in time for publication.
Wired attempted to reach Smeets repeatedly by telephone, e-mail and Twitter on Tuesday and Wednesday. He responded by e-mail Wednesday afternoon, declining our request for a telephone interview. “I am extremely overwhelmed by the amount of emails, tweets, messages I am getting,” Smeets wrote.
He did not immediately respond to a follow-up e-mail inquiring about the apparent discrepancies in his resume and seeking more information about his purported flight.
The domains for Smeets’ website, humanbirdwings.net and .com, were both registered in August 2011 through the private domain registration service of Netherlands-based SoHosted, which hides the identity of the domain’s owner.
Ron Fedkiw, a computer scientist at Stanford University who has worked on computer-generated graphics in films such as “Terminator 3″ and “Star Wars: Episode III,” told Wired in an email that a continuous video shot might have made Smeets’ latest video “a much more convincing fake.”
“[C]utting the camera angle is an obvious trick,” Fedkiw wrote to Wired in an email. “Note how there is no continuous video from take-off to landing, instead they cut away the main ground camera right as he takes off and cut back right before he lands.”
“They don’t really even need much CGI work or any fake footage here with the camera cuts,” he wrote. “The head cam footage could all be shot from a glider video — any glider, not necessarily those wings … The only real image work would have to be in the very beginning when they get a small bit off the ground, which could just be running up an edited hill or ramp.”
Bert Otten, a neuromechanics scientist at the University of Groningen, met with Smeets and his colleagues in August 2011.
“I haven’t seen the contraption they have built with my own eyes, so I cannot tell you from the inside whether this is fake or not,” Otten told Wired. “I haven’t looked at the video very carefully, but others have, and I must share their suspicions there.”
Gizmodo offers some of its own analysis from CGI experts, who point to several other incongruities in one of the team’s other videos. A small black square suddenly appears on the right wing just before Smarno takes off, suggesting a real model was switched out for a CG one. In addition, shadows cast by Smeets’ accomplices on his wings don’t match up to the movements of the people themselves.
Another video on the Flying High website contains screenshots of the prototype made in a program called Maya, primarily used by 3-D artists. While not proof of doctoring, it is suggestive that the team could have created a fake flying machine in their computer.
Adam Mann contributed to this report.