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When Tupac Shakur strode on stage at the 2012 Coachella Music Festival to perform a song with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, most of those in attendance were struck dumb with awe, because Tupac was shot and killed in 1996. Thanks to a combination of an old-time stage trick and modern technology he returned to life in virtual form in front of 100,000 stunned music fans.

There is talk of his holographic performance being extended to accommodate a full tour. It makes a lot of sense in making this happen. The possibility made me consider a future in which holographic projections such as the one which enabled Tupac fans to experience their hero one more time become standard. Both for those who are still performing music and those who have passed on.

Pepper’s Ghost


The technology behind the Tupac hologram is both amazing and simplistic at the same time. The technique being used actually dates back to at least the 19th century and is called ‘Pepper’s Ghost‘, named after John Henry Pepper. While he didn’t invent the technique, Pepper popularized it and the name stuck.

The technique was first described by Giambattista della Porta in the 16th century, and Henry Dircks is known to have used it in his Dircksian Phantasmagoria performances before Pepper brought it into mainstream theaters.

In those days the Pepper’s Ghost effect, which conjures a ghostly image in one room from an actual object in another, was brought to life using a sheet of plate glass. When the glass was angled correctly and had a light source aimed at it, a realistic image was displayed to the audience without them ever seeing the source.

These days Pepper’s Ghost is mainly used in haunted houses, theme parks, and museums. Amateur enthusiasts have even been know to rig up Pepper’s Ghost displays in their back gardens. But there is clearly a new use for this centuries-old technique which, with the addition of the latest AV equipment, could change the nature of live concerts.

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Modern Applications

According to MTV, Digital Domain is the company responsible for recreating the virtual form of Tupac, but it has also worked on Hollywood movies. Its credits including The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, in which it managed to convincingly age and de-age Brad Pitt, and Tron: Legacy, in which it shaved years off Jeff Bridges’ age. AV Concepts is responsible for actually projecting the hologram onto the stage, though it’s being careful not to reveal too many of its secrets.

We do know that the company uses a version of the Musion Eyeliner system, which it licenses from patent holder Musion Systems. The video embedded above shows how it works. This is essentially the Pepper’s Ghost technique but created using modern technology. The metallic foil that has replaced the glass is positioned on stage at a 45-degree angle to the audience. A video projector beams an HD image onto a reflective surface, which then reflects from the foil towards the audience, giving the illusion of someone or something being physically present.

This means anything that can be displayed on a video projector can be recreated on stage. Opening up an endless number of possibilities. It also means this isn’t a hologram as such, but merely an optical illusion. Unfortunately that doesn’t sound anywhere near as compelling.

Dead Musicians

Musicians who have long gone from this world could be brought back for one-off shows or even tours. Just like Tupac at Coachella. I would pay good money to see the following perform live.

Elvis Presley had become something of a caricature of his former self. Imagine seeing him as a young man setting out to change the world with a holographic version of him from the late 1950s, early 1960s. An Elvis Presley world tour would sell out in seconds. The technology would allow the King to return.

The Beatles were, are, and will forever remain, the greatest pop group of all time. With two of the four having now sadly passed away a world tour with holograms of the four Beatles in their heyday would make utter sense. The technology would allow for the group to be shown at different stages of their career.

Jimi Hendrix is probably the greatest guitarist who ever lived. Unfortunately he died way before his time, being a member of that exclusive group of musicians who died aged 27. The technology would give fans the opportunity to see a guitar god up on stage performing once more.

Queen were a true rock band, with a frontman that many consider to be the greatest of all time. Imagine a Queen tour with the real-life Brian May and Roger Taylor joined on stage by a holographic version of Freddie Mercury. The technology would allow one of the greatest showmen of all time emit his incredible stage presence again.

Michael Jackson was once the King of Pop. At the time of his death, Jackson was preparing to go out on tour; a grand, possibly final tour to thank all his fans. The technology would enable the hundreds of thousands who had tickets for This Is It! to fulfill their dream.

Live Musicians


This wouldn’t just be a boon for (the estates of) dead musicians. Living ones could utilize the technology in a number of different ways. Duets could be performed at concerts despite one party not being present. Former band members who then became solo artists could include sections of their gigs in which they re-team with their former bands. Artists who love themselves a little too much could create virtual clones to appear on stage with them.

The laziest performers could one day even send their holograms out on tour while they relax on holiday. An unlikely scenario perhaps, but if the technology keeps on improving there may come a day when an audience wouldn’t actually be able to tell the difference.

Conclusions

Would you pay money to see a concert performed entirely by a holographic representation of a music artist who is no longer with us? Would you like the spectacle of a real band adding holographic elements to their shows? What other uses can you imagine this innovation being used for? As always we want to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image Credits: evsmitty, Chrys Omori, locusolus

  1. April Alboc
    July 21, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Tupac lives! holograms are neato.

  2. Ben
    June 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    This technology is amazing and has great potential. I am thinking virtual conferencing (next logical step from teleconferencing).

  3. anaglyph
    May 10, 2012 at 3:09 am

    The technique is already being widely employed in music concerts in Japan for their fictional Vocaloid divas like Hatsune Miku and Megurine Luka, and has been in use since at least 2009:

    http://www.tetherdcow.com/?p=10152

    It is NOT a hologram. The critical thing to understand about this illusion is that it is completely 2 dimensional, not the true 3D you would get if it was really holographic. Clever, yeas, hologram, no. You could achieve the exact same effect in your lounge room with a flat screen and a piece of glass.

  4. Neffness
    May 9, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    I think every concert should utilize this technology. Intermissions would be bad ass if you could see acts from the past. For instance, you go to a metal festival, would be nice to see Dime Bag on stage rockin it out while the crew sets up for the next band. "Bands" like the Gorillaz could take their epic stage show one step further, and if the point is to enjoy good music in a live setting then this is gold. Honestly, how many of you actually got to touch Tupoc during a concert anyways? My only request is, don't announce that you'll be doing a Holographic show, don't even hint at it. I think the surprise is what will make it awesome. You know if you would have been at that concert and seen Tupoc take the stage you'd have done a double take and said "What the f..." and don't even try to act you wouldn't have cheered at the end, cause ya know you would have. I say, embrace the future. And hey, if anyone ever does a Milli Vanill show, it WILL be like the real thing. ;)

  5. Mike
    May 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    The combinations of tours of passed artists is unimaginable. The Doors & Jimi Hendrix, the original line up of Led Zepplin. My issue would be artists that use it just so they do not have to perform and make money.

    • Adam
      May 9, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      So, if they aren't performing, who is going to record the music to go over top of the 'hologram'? And then, who would you really be watching?

  6. Mishy
    May 9, 2012 at 1:49 am

    I would love to enjoy the talented artists from the past and get that experience of a live performance. There are no moral issues running through my mind.

  7. Ben M
    May 8, 2012 at 3:44 am

    Amazing, indeed. And we all know this is just the beginning.

    For more than two decades, Digital Animation studios have been leap-frogging each other with new levels of realism. Most big-budget animation films include one or more improvements: More Convincing Mouth Movement...More Convincing Eye Movement...More Convincing Facial Expressions...More Convincing Skin...More Convincing Body Motion...More Convincing Effect of Movement on Clothes Worn...More strands of individual hair moving in realistic unison appropriate to the surface the hair is attached to, as well as by external environmental factors (e.g., rain, snow, molten lava...)

    Humphrey Bogart and Elvis appear in a movie together they never made. All deceased popes & cardinals that we have visual-recordings of could be reanimated together in a choir, led by the current Pope, and accompanied by organist Ray Charles. Why Not?

    I went to school with a great guy who went on to win Oscars and other awards for his work developing innovative digital effects technology. I can almost guarantee you you've seen his work (IMDB "Lincoln Hu"),

    Back in 2005, I asked him how long would it be before live video could footage of people doing and saying things they never did, that is, live footage that never occurred? He said the raw technology already existed, but was essentially impractical to use. Computing back in 2005 was too slow, awkward & costly to do. Jump forward 7 years at Internet Speed and we are getting closer to those obstacles being overcome.

    The irony here is that it wasn't vast mountains of Digital Animation software and 100's of millions of dollars worth of hardware and computing that helped Mr. Shakur reappear and become the first use of reanimation that sent 200,000 eyes popping out. It was the High Tech of 16th Century China, in use in Europe and America for more than 100 years.

  8. JOHN
    May 6, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    I REALY WANT TO KNOW THAT 2PAC IS DEAD OR HE IS STILL LIVING HE IS NOT DEAD BECAUSE HE HEAR THAT 2PAC AND MICHEAL JACKSON ARE DEAD. BUT NOW I READ THAT 2PAC WAS SINGING.

  9. RLB
    May 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Interesting stuff. What about the possibilities of combining the augmented reality craze to a live performance. Could a performer be aged or otherwise modified in real time on stage?

    • Dave Parrack
      May 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      There are definitely some interesting possibilities there that I'm sure will be explored in the future. Maybe when as many of us own Google Glasses as currently own smartphones :)

  10. Jon
    May 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Moral ambiguities of animating a dead artist to make money off of them aside, this is overall pretty pointless to me.

    May as well just pop in a DVD or go watch a decent impersonator, none of which I would pay good (or even decent) money for.

    As much as this technology may be able to re-create the image of an artist, it cannot re-create the intangible qualities an artist has during a live performance. When people go to see an artist live, they go to see the showmanship and decisions that the artist themselves make in the moment, which this cannot do.

    From an audio standpoint, we are either listening to pre-recorded material, or listening to another person impersonate them. From a visual standpoint we are either again watching pre-recorded footage, or a computer generated representation. Now we are just watching what a projection of how someone else thinks an artist might perform something. Any and all authenticity of that artist is eliminated. It means nothing. May as well be a Pixar movie.

    Then if we're looking at still living artists using this to perform "live" remotely, well that becomes a case of being an essentially really fancy television broadcast, and I would expect to pay as much for that as I do a television broadcast: nothing.

    From a performance standpoint I'd consider it a novelty, nothing more. Where I do think this can be utilized in a more interesting way, is in telecommunications. I think it could potentially open up new pathways to create virtual meetings or ways for a person to possibly remotely experience an environment that may be fruitful.

    • Dave Parrack
      May 4, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      I would say a 3D projection is vastly different from a DVD. And I have paid to see The Bootleg Beatles, the longest-running Beatles tribute act. So I guess I would be the target audience.

      You're not alone in not being impressed by the tech - my girlfriend also thinks it's a novelty - but lots of people would pay to see a show like this.

      I agree that this could be a real boon in telecommunications. I certainly think this will be used a lot more in the future.

      • SHATTA.
        May 5, 2012 at 10:17 am

        Ofcourse you are right it will be used but it shouldn't be so.

      • Adam
        May 5, 2012 at 12:28 pm

        3D televisions are now becoming pretty common-place, as are 3D movies. And when you look at the footage above, you can plainly see that is is NOT 3D at all. Tupac looks very flat and in my opinion a little jerky...

        Also, I couldn't agree more with Jon on his point about it not actually being new, live, or (sometimes) even the real artist performing the music. I am a musician and avid concert-goer, and this does not excite at all. The whole reason I (and I believe many others) go to shows is to HEAR these people we idolize, hear their real voices, see the real emotion on their faces when the crowd lights up for them, to see how they really sound in person and to share something with the people who sometimes seem so disconnected and out of touch from our worlds. Often, the day of a big show, I'll be walking around my city thinking to myself, "Wow! Somewhere in this town, The Pixies are actually walking around! They're HERE!!" After a show, I feel closer to the band I have seen because we were together, in the same room, feeling the same feelings and smelling the same smells. Not because I could see an image of them up front.

        I don't think this tech is that amazing, or that it brings any passed artist "back to life", but I would not be surprised if it does catch on. It sometimes seems to me that more and more and more of our time is being spent staring at screens. Down with screens! Up with Humans! :D

        Thanks for the article though, really enjoyed it!

        • Dave Parrack
          May 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm

          I take your points on board. I still think it would be better to see any representation of a dead music artist on stage than none at all. I wonder how many people would pay to see The Beatles in this form?

          I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for commenting :)

        • Jizzyb
          May 6, 2012 at 6:47 pm

          Hi , 2pac has been my super hero since my childhood. D new development about his resuration is getin me crazy .

    • Von Gimbel Online
      May 5, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      It is a fancy broadcast, and in the future they WILL be free. Can you imagine the level that commercials will rise to in order to make pay!

      Think of it like lead-magnets. Free Holoshows starring [insert name of artist here].....Just text [keyword] to 12345 to reserve your seat.

      Then you get people on an SMS list, and to an arena where they are a captive audience to "pepper's ghost" commercials between acts. If your sick of QRcodes now....

      Actually, they can put QRcodes on stage at shows now. For that matter, they could send people around the venue with mobile Bluetooth transmitters pumping out online music sales right to all the smart phones with their Bluetooth turned on. A simple plug from stage and some swag-magnets for turning it on would boost those #'s.

      Also B-list and Socialites can help pack clubs. The likes of Paris Hilton or whoever could "rent" their image to big nightclubs or similar venues. The club can put a hologram of them in a VIP lounge in view of the club. Fill the lounge out with pretty club extras to interact with the holoceleb.

      Anyway. Good luck with that waiting until they are free concerts in the park thing. You're gonna pay one way or another......unless you just don't go see them.

      • Dave Parrack
        May 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm

        The celebrity image in a club idea is a great one. There are too many celebs who would happily rent their image out these days.

        Otherwise I think the possibilities are endless. Who know which direction this will head in in the future.

  11. Chris Hoffman
    May 4, 2012 at 6:08 am

    The technology is pretty amazing, but there's something that just feels... wrong about this to me. I mean, metaphorically reanimating a dead artist and putting him or her on stage for big corporations to make more money? It's a ted unsettling.

    I don't know. Maybe I'm just becoming a crotchety, out-of-touch old man at the ripe old age of 25. Is this really all that different from video or audio? Maybe not.

    • Dave Parrack
      May 4, 2012 at 10:40 am

      I didn't even consider the fact some people would be against this on moral grounds. But I saw a couple of comments on Facebook that mirror yours.

      I think it is a step-up from video and audio. You could lose yourself in the moment a lot easier with a virtual dead musician on stage more easily than you could with a video presentation. I would pay more to see The Beatles in this way than I would to see any live band around today. And I AM a crotchety, out-of-touch man at the very old age of 35!

      • Chris Hoffman
        May 5, 2012 at 12:55 am

        I don't know if I'm against it on moral grounds, per se... there's something that just feels off about it.

        I think Jon's comment about the loss of authenticity is part of it.

    • SHATTA.
      May 5, 2012 at 10:18 am

      IT WILL HAPPEN BREDDA THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING.
      A LOT OF PEOPLE WILL LOVE THIS THING AND PROMOTE IT.

  12. Humza
    May 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Amazing...

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