Spread across Joe Nolte's desk are photos of scenes that never took place.
An old man in South America (long dead) stands next to a grandson he's never met. In another photo, a Los Angeles woman (not an actress) in a negligee sits in Scarlett O'Hara's bed from "Gone With the Wind" and stares into Clark Gable's eyes. A third photo depicts an old man in a bomber jacket hugging a younger man (actually the old man, 50 years earlier).
The photos are samples of Nolte's work at Out-Takes, a portrait studio at Universal CityWalk where Nolte uses state-of-the-art technology that enables him to alter photographs or put a customer in a scene from a movie or television program.
Working with a software program called Adobe Photoshop, Nolte, a graphics supervisor at Out-Takes, was able to use an old black-and-white photograph to place the deceased South American in a recent photo he took at Out-Takes of the man's relatives in Los Angeles.
Out-Takes has obtained legal permission to place customers in about 100 different scenes from films such as "The Wizard of Oz" and television shows such as "Star Trek." To appear in one of those scenes, a customer can don a Star Trek uniform, sling a Tricorder over his shoulder and point a phaser toward the camera.
A moment later, the customer can see himself on Nolte's computer screen, which depicts him standing shoulder to shoulder on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise with Kirk, Bones and Spock. Even customers who know the photos are edited can get very emotional about the results.
Says Nolte, "We had an older woman whose favorite actor was Clark Gable who burst into tears when she saw the photo of herself pictured with the actor in a scene from 'Gone With the Wind.' "
The lighting and camera angles are preset for such scenes, so the shoots take little work, says Nolte. The assignments he enjoys most are those involving more intrigue, such as that involving the older man meeting his younger self.
Nolte says he went back to school in the late 1980s, hoping that a bachelor's degree in computer science would give him a career as a computer graphic artist. It did.
His familiarity with computers and software enabled Nolte to teach himself how to use Adobe Photoshop, the software program he uses to edit people in or out of photographs. Out-Takes can charge several hundred dollars for that service, compared with the $39 it charges customers to appear in a preset scene from a popular film or TV show. The salary for a graphics supervisor, Nolte says, can top $40,000.
Sometimes customers ask Nolte to rewrite history. For example, a man recently had Nolte remove the man's ex-wife from a photo of them posing with friends.
Even Nolte has a fantasy photo wish: his face on a Beatles album cover.