What Everyone Should Know About Concert Hologram Technology

In the three months since we were blown away by Hologram Tupac “performing” at Coachella, the following artists have been under consideration to be the next Makaveli: Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson and so many, many more. The technology isn’t going away, and it shouldn’t — it’s too damn cool.

So, before the inevitable day arrives where we all watch Hologram Hendrix wail on “Voodoo Chile” on YouTube, here are a few things you should know about concert hologram technology.

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The Tupac hologram — and we’ll get to why “hologram” isn’t the right word to be used here — was created by the San Diego-based AV Concepts, a company that was founded in 1987 and aims to be the “premiere nationwide provider of audio, visual and creative solutions.” Their clients include NBC, Starbucks, Intel, and Dell, and they provide such services as 3D Rendering, Lighting, Rigging, Room Diagrams, and Content Capture. In other words, if you want your presentation to look awesomely high-tech, AV Concepts is where to go.

OK, but what about Tupac? In an interview with MTV, AV Concepts president Nick Smith said:

“We worked with Dr. Dre on this and it was Dre’s vision to bring this back to life. It was his idea from the very beginning and we worked with him and his camp to utilize the technology to make it come to life.”

Smith said he wasn’t allowed to talk about the creative aspects of the production, but he did say that his company has the ability to recreate long-dead figures and visually recreate them in the studio. “You can take their likenesses and voice and…take people that haven’t done concerts before or perform music they haven’t sung and digitally recreate it,” he said. (Via)

They’re the ones responsible for assisting with Gorillaz live shows:

The future is now.

AV wasn’t the only company that helped bring Tupac back to life, so to speak. Digital Domain, which was founded by James Cameron, Stan Winston, and Scott Ross in Venice, California, was also in charge of creating the digital likeness. They’re certainly qualified: Digital won an Oscar for the effects in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, not to mention their work on Tron: Legacy and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and recently took home a prestigious award for their “groundbreaking work in the creative communications field.”

Basically, Digital created the image and AV Concepts was in charge of finding a way to display said image. Together, perfect harmony.

Throughout this post, I’ve used the word “hologram” to describe what happened at Coachella. This is inaccurate: a hologram is a three dimensional figure; Tupac was actually in 2D, and just appeared to be in 3D. How did that happen? Here’s a visual representation:

And AV explains it as such:

Utilizing a unique Musion Eyeliner screen and a 30 x 13 projection system, that was customized by AV Concepts to descend onto the stage in mere seconds under cover of darkness, in-between parts of their performance to bring the famous deceased rapper to back to life as a perceived hologram.

In simpler terms: a projector ran “not found footage…not archival footage…[but] an illusion” of the real Tupac, which bounced off a reflective surface on the stage, Mylar foil, onto an angled piece of glass. This visual trick, called the Pepper’s Ghost illusion, actually dates back to the 16th century. What fooled people 500 years ago is still tricking us in 2012. This endeavor took nearly four months in a studio to create and cost somewhere between $100,000-$400,000, which is actually a bargain compared to the booking fees of most bands.

The inevitable question with all this is: now what?

“Now that we’ve developed the tools to do this,” says Ed Ulbrich, chief creative officer at Digital Domain, “we can start to look at other applications—advertising, commercial work; until now things like this haven’t been feasible.” As technology advances, Ulbrich thinks digital projections of living, dead, and fictional people may become more common. His goal is to one day create a hologram that people won’t realize is fake. “Nothing is real and everything is possible,” he says. (Via)

Many people go to giant concerts not because they particularly want to hear a Katy Perry deep cut, but because they want to gaze at a spectacle for two hours. Perry’s flesh-and-blood presence is almost beside the point (I went to a Britney Spears concert when I was 13 — believe me, I know how much the performer can be overshadowed by everything around them). So, who’s to say the next step isn’t to a) try out hologram tours with famous deceased musicians, like Jimi Hendrix or Elvis Presley, and if that’s popular, b) replace living pop stars with their avatars for concerts? From a business perspective, it makes sense — it’s cheaper and less backstage-rider-demanding; from a fan perspective, well, a lot of people seemed to really like Tupac.

Whether you’re for or against “live holograms” isn’t really the point. It’s just amazing that technology enables us to have this conversation.