The punchline of Richard Pryor’s joke (Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?) is called to mind by this just in from Beijing

Who will ever forget the thrill of watching those gigantic firework footprints marching across the sky from Tiananmen Square to the Bird’s Nest?

Well, apparently we can all forget it right now because it never really happened. What we were watching were some computer graphics “meticulously created over a period of months and inserted into the coverage electronically at exactly the right moment.”

The fireworks were there for real, outside the stadium. But those responsible for filming the extravaganza decided in advance it would be impossible to capture all 29 footprints from the air.

As a result, only the last, visible from the camera stands inside the Bird’s Nest was captured on film.

The trick was revealed in a local Chinese newspaper, the Beijing Times, at the weekend.

Gao Xiaolong, head of the visual effects team for the ceremony, said it had taken almost a year to create the 55-second sequence. Meticulous efforts were made to ensure the sequence was as unnoticeable as possible: they sought advice from the Beijing meteorological office as to how to recreate the hazy effects of Beijing’s smog at night, and inserted a slight camera shake effect to simulate the idea that it was filmed from a helicopter.

“Seeing how it worked out, it was still a bit too bright compared to the actual fireworks,” he said. “But most of the audience thought it was filmed live – so that was mission accomplished.”

At least Olympian effort was expended to fool us.