The Return of Tupac: How Digital Holograms Will Impact Live Music Performances

It was the most talked about act of the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, CA this month. Tupac Shakur, the hip-hop legend shot dead during in 1996, was resurrected on stage in the form of 3D hologram during a live set featuring Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. This was the premiere of the technology in America and has since spawned countless debate over the quality and limitations of its use, with discussions of its impact on the music industry shortly following. Questions have risen: How did they create such a realistic incarnation of the west-coast rap legend? Who else can rise from the grave to melt the faces of thousands? What does this mean for live music performances in the future? And most importantly, how do we know any of the performers were actually really there?!?!

I’m going to assume that they were. I happened to be in attendance for the premiere of this technology and have to say that I was as shocked and impressed as everyone else seemed to be. But the reaction from the crowd was interesting. The crowd was already buzzing after Dre and Snoop featured songs with Kendrick Llamar, Wiz Khalifa, 50 Cent, and Eminem while including a touching tribute to recently deceased West-Coast rapper/producer Nate Dogg; anticipation rising from the rumors of a Tupac hologram appearing. No one really knew what to expect. The hologram rose from the stage and featured close ups of his likeness on the video boards. It looked, moved, and sounded like the real thing, interacting with the artists on stage and prompting responses from the audience. A hushed silence fell over the crowd, possibly from shock and disbelief. The hologram proceeded to “perform” two tracks, “Hail Mary” and “2 of Americaz Most Wanted” to mixed reactions. Some were singing along, celebrating their opportunity to rock with a legend once more, some were nodding, others simply stood and scowled.

The hologram was developed by AV Concepts, using technology licensed from Musion, a British company that developed the technique and which retain a global patent on it.

Using updated Pepper’s Ghost technology (a Victorian-era illusionary method), it is a high definition 3D holographic video projection system allowing 3D life-size moving holograms to appear within a live stage setting.

The system works by placing thin metallised film across the front of the stage at an angle of 45 degrees towards the audience. Recessed below the screen is a bright image supplied by an LED screen or powerful projector; when viewed from the audience’s perspective, the reflected images appear to be onstage.

How it worked

What was occurring was truly different and revolutionary inciting a multitude of reactions. No one could deny that the technology was cool. The hologram looked pretty realistic to most of the crowd of around 90,000 except for the subtle gliding around the stage and CGI details that resembled a character out of Grand Theft Auto. But I questioned whether this should be included in the live performance. I put “performed” in quotes earlier because all Tupac did was move back and forth on stage while someone pressed play in the control room. Why should this hologram rock the crowd any harder than the pre-performance music does before an act comes on? Was this disrespectful to the memory of the truly inspirational memory of the great musical artist?

“I think I might have cried when I saw Tupac,” wrote popstar Katy Perry, while Questlove of The Roots said, “That Pac hologram haunted me in my sleep”. Rihanna simply tweeted “#TupacBACK #unbelievable”.

MTV News senior writer James Montgomery was quite skeptical of the whole display. “Who wouldn’t want to see Tupac or anyone on a tour? But just for me there were some things about it that kind of bothered me,” he said when he appeared on Wednesday’s “It didn’t seem really right to me.”

From the beginning of the performance, Montgomery was rubbed the wrong way. “What the f— is up, Coachella?” the optically enhanced Tupac image screamed before “Hail Mary” played from the stage speakers. “Tupac died in 1996 and Coachella didn’t start until 1999, which means that someone basically had to record that dialogue for him, which is kind of troubling,” he said. “It’s basically putting words in the deceased’s mouth.” Rob Markman, senior hip-hop writer for MTV News, has the opposing view. He believes that the projected image of ‘Pac onstage isn’t much different from the big-screen video montages that rappers have used to honor Shakur and other fallen rappers like the Notorious B.I.G. and Big Pun during their own concerts.

In addition to the artistic possibilities, the business prospects are also sure to be appealing to some. “It raises these weird questions about artist legacy,” Montgomery said. “How long until you see every casino in Vegas get Elvis or Billie Holiday and they have these sort of quote, unquote live shows of these people?”

“RapFix Live” host Sway Calloway noted that no matter which side of the debate you fall on, quality is the most important aspect of it — and the general consensus is that the Tupac hologram was done well. “Dr. Dre sanctioned it, Afeni Shakur OK’d it,” he said, referring to Tupac’s mother and onetime producer. “Bottom line: If it was poorly done and it was wack, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.”

This is not the first time this technology has been used for live musical performance. Musion has help create holograms for the Gorillaz, who have perform virtual live shows since 2005, as well as holograms for The Black Eyed Peas during the NRJ Music Awards last year. In Japan, there are anime pop stars, notably Hatsune Miku, who sell out stadiums to audiences who come to see a hologram perform. This has serious implications to the music business for the future. The Tupac hologram has been rumored to be taking his act on tour and rumors of hologram performances by other post-mortem artists are starting to pop up.

One of Michael Jackson’s brothers told E! News that a hologram of the much-beloved gloved one is a serious possibility for the 2013 concert tour he’s planning with brothers Jermaine, Tito and Marlon.

“It could have Michael – absolutely,” Jackie Jackson told E! “Wouldn’t that be wonderful? As a matter of fact, we had that idea two years ago for Michael’s Cirque du Soleil show.”

Read more:

Coachella Lineup 2013

The holograms are far from cheap and take months of preparation to pull off but with the rate that technology has been advancing in the modern age, it would not be surprising to see more artists rise from the dead to rock with fans around the globe within the coming decade.

MTV: Tupac’s Coachella Performance – The Slippery Slope

Something about seeing this hologram on stage made me react with some reflection on the world around us. It was one of the few times in my life thus far where I truly saw something and said to myself, “Wow. We are really living in the future now.” The last time I had this reaction was when I held my first iPhone. Or when I first talked to a car and it listened. I certainly doubt it will be my last time saying this either. People in the 1970s would probably laugh at you if you told them that in just 40 years you would be able to buy marijuana in a store, your car would be able to give you directions, everyone carries little touchscreen computers with them, or simply just try explaining Facebook (or the Internet in fact). More and more videos are coming out showing the possibilities of technology and how it will be utilized in the future. Well this hologram technology is here to stay. We are utilizing it now. We are living in the future. Only time will tell whether our culture will embrace or reject these advances and integrate them into our daily lifestyle. How will we be living our lives in 40 years? I don’t have a clue. But I hope I get to see hologram Michael Jackson perform a duet with Notorious B.I.G. before I die! That would be totally awesome.



2 thoughts on “The Return of Tupac: How Digital Holograms Will Impact Live Music Performances

  1. Great post! This was something that really shocked me when I saw it, and I can only imagine what it was like to be there. It truly is amazing how far technology has come, and I only see this as an advancement. In regards to critics and the morality of the issue, I don’t think there is anything wrond with it. We watch Tupac documentaries, why not a likeness of him? If the worry is because he is deceased and it’s disrespectful, then I say this – how could you call remembering someone for something they were known to be great for doing disrespectful? People wear Pac and Biggie shirts all of the time. Sometimes shirts with both on them. Now that would’ve pissed him off, but being remembered is what Tupac would have wanted. I think this is a great technology, and I think your analysis was spot on. Also, thanks for explaining to me how it worked. I was wondering.

  2. This was a really great idea, but I wonder: now that it’s out of the bag and the surprise factor is gone, how impressive will it really be in the future? That seems like something that really gains steam because of its novelty, and now that novelty is gone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s