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How Did They Create the Tupac Hologram?

When the late Tupac Shakur rose from the grave (and appeared onstage) last weekend at the Coachella Music Festival in California, his virtual self sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry. It was the first time a deceased pop star entertained a crowd on such a grand scale – but based on the reaction, it won’t be the last.

Rapper Snoop Dogg (L) and a “hologram” of the late rapper Tupac Shakur (R) perform at Coachella.

Bringing Tupac Back to Life
At his peak, Tupac Shakur was one of the best-selling artists in the world, having sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. The rapper was cut down in his prime, dying from gunshot wounds on September 13, 1996. To bring the rapper back to life, music producer and Coachella performer Dr. Dre partnered with James Cameron’s Digital Domain, San Diego’s AV Concepts and U.K.-based Musion Systems to create a unique Tupac performance – just for Coachella.

Ed Ulbrich, chief creative officer at Digital Domain, said “This is just the beginning. Dre has a massive vision for this.” In fact, The Wall Street Journal reported that the “hologram Tupac” may be going on tour. Neither Dr. Dre or the companies he hired to help bring Tupac back to life are commenting about a tour or how they pulled off the performance.

Insiders have said the visual effect is the same as the effect that makes the ghost appear in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and the Tower of Terror. Called “Pepper’s Ghost,” the image is basically projected onto a piece of glass, or in the case of Tupac, a mylar sheet 30-by-13 feet across. So in reality, it’s a 2D image and not a 3D hologram.

Disney Resorts’ Tower of Terror attraction uses the same effect as the Tupac “hologram.” (The Walt Disney Company)

The custom screen, designed by AV Concepts, was lowered onto the stage seconds before his performance. And because it’s clear, other performers (like Dre and Snoop Dog) were able to get up close and personal with the virtual performer.

How it worked: The illusion is almost identical to those seen in theme parks. (International Business Times)

But there’s more to Tupac’s Coachella performance than just digging up archival footage and projecting it on a mylar screen. Tupac’s two-song performance was a year in the making; the performer is actually a computer-generated image.

To create it, Digital Domain used motion capture and computers to create the likeness. “This is not (Tupac) performing at some point. This is a completely original, exclusive performance only for Coachella and that audience,” Ed Ulbrich, chief creative officer at Digital Domain told Bloomberg News.

Digital Domain copied his mannerisms, tone of voice and even his tattoos. Tupac’s performance marks a new era in entertainment. Think for a second about a show that re-imagines The Beatles, or Elvis, years after they actually toured…

Madonna virtually performs with The Gorillaz at the 2006 Grammys. 

Famous Virtual Performers
The holographic Tupac Shakur that performed at Coachella wasn’t the first holographic performer. In fact, holographic performers have been entertaining people since the 1860s. The Pepper’s Ghost effect was first used in an 1862 performance of Charles Dickens’ novella “The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain,” at the Royal Polytechnic Institute in London. Here are a few more recent ones:

Hatsune Miku:
A blue-haired Japanese pop star whose animated 3D manga likeness has been performing to packed arenas since 2010.

Hatsune Miku is an anime hologram that has been performing in Japan since 2010.

Madonna performing with The Gorillaz:
During their 2006 Grammy Awards performance Madonna and the Gorillaz performed as holograms.

Creating the Next Virtual Pop Star
Learning music and beats production can put you on a fast track to becoming a hit maker. But as Digital Domain has vividly demonstrated, the next music star may be a virtual one formed completely out of visual effects. Tupac’s Coachella performance, the buzz and reaction are sure to make other performers (or their estates) consider a virtual performances.


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posted by DMA Jordan in Music Production,News Blog and have No Comments