How the Tupac hologram at Coachella worked

There have been rumors for a long time that Tupac survived his post-fight shooting on the Las Vegas strip, just like his passenger Suge Knight did. In fact Suge himself is pretty much confirming these rumors now. Tupac famously made a Burning Man themed video on the Playa, at the same time that Dr Dre was rumored to have bought the BLM permit for Burning Man.

The Makavelli Resurrection rumors are now enhanced by fans of the massive Coachella party, held for the first time this year over two weekends. They saw the greatest legends of hip-hop, the Holy Trinity: Dr Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Tupac Shakur. Tupac danced his ass off, and looked very much alive – far better than R2D2’s “Obi Wan Kenobi” 70’s lame hologram.

Supposedly, Tupac has been dead for 16 years. This is explored in some detail in Nick Broomfield’s excellent documentary, Biggie and Tupac.

At this year’s Coachella, Tupac appeared to come back to life, via a hologram. There are even rumors that he was in the crowd, watching his ghost performance.

Was the hologram based on the real thing – like how Michael Jackson shot his whole concert in a 3d sensor suit in front of IMax 3d cameras, shortly before his “accidental” death? Was Tupac out the back, dancing in a sensor suit? Or in the crowd, enjoying the performance ?

Burners.Me is happy to bring you the lowdown on how it went down – we’ve been dying to know ourselves.

The performance was produced by AV concepts San Diego , for a cost rumored to be between $100-400,000. Dr Dre orchestrated the performance, he built the screens in a similar way that he built the headphones.

Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal reported that the technology used to bring Tupac back is actually based on 19th century visual effect known as Pepper’s Ghost. Illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer told the WSJ that the effect was first used in 1862 for a London dramatization of Charles Dickens’ “The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain,” but we’d bet a king’s ransom that it didn’t look nearly as cool as Makaveli’s resurrection this past weekend. 

The back-in-the day optical illusion is pulled off with an angled piece of glass on which an image is reflected. 

 

Originally the Pepper’s Ghost effect was used to reflect actual actors, but modern-day technological advances made it possible for the fallen rap star to make his posthumous concert appearance. In the case of the Dr. Dre-orchestrated ‘Pac performance a Mylar screen was used instead of glass. An HD overhead projector shot a moving computer-generated image of the rapper onto a reflective surface on the stage floor. The moving image was then bounced up onto the Mylar screen, which was angled so the crowd wouldn’t notice. Though the image looked three-dimensional, it was still technically a 2-D display.

This technique has been used in music concerts in the past, in a Frank Sinatra concert in 2003, and a Madonna/Gorillaz performance at the Grammys in 2006:

The effect was first used in an 1862 dramatization of Charles Dickens’ novella “The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain,” staged at the Royal Polytechnic Institute in London, according to Jim Steinmeyer, an illusion designer who has written extensively about the history of his craft, including Pepper’s Ghost.

The effect relies on an angled piece of glass in which a “ghostly” image is reflected. “A piece of glass can be both transparent and reflective at the same time, depending on how it’s situated relative to the audience,” said Mr. Steinmeyer, pointing out the secret.

In the Victorian version of the trick, the glass reflected an actual actor, situated out of sight in near the orchestra. On Sunday night, the image was projected on a piece of Mylar—a highly reflective, lightweight plastic—stretched on a clear frame.

“What’s happening in Coachella is virtually the same thing that was happening in 1862,” Mr. Steinmeyer said. One difference: In the Victorian era, Pepper’s Ghost was normally used to reflect actual, physical objects or actors, making them appear “dimensional” in ways that the projected or computer-generated imagery typically used today do not.

Mr. Steinmeyer used similar technology to create an illusion in which Frank Sinatra appeared at a 2003 concert.


The company behind the hologram won an Oscar for special effects for the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Their stock might be a good buy:

Digital Domain is a publicly traded company that reported revenue last year of $98.6 million. The thinly-traded company has a market capitalization of $211 million. Its stock is down 15% year-to-date.

“To create a completely synthetic human being is the most complicated thing that can be done,” Digital Domain’s chief creative officer, Ed Ulbrich, said in a phone interview Monday.

He said that the performances of the rapper’s hits “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” weren’t simply old ones captured on film and repurposed: “This is not found footage. This is not archival footage. This is an illusion.”

“This is just the beginning,” Mr. Ulbrich said. “Dre has a massive vision for this.”

Another company owns the patent on the use of Mylar in the illusion

A London-based company called Musion Systems Ltd. owns the patent for using a Mylar screen in the illusion. Musion said it licenses its technology to around 30 companies around the world, including AV Concepts. Its technology was also used for the 2006 Grammy Awards, when an animated rock band called the Gorillaz appeared to perform live on stage with Madonna.

Expect to see all kinds of “comeback from the dead” tours now – Elvis, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Pac & Biggie, Amy Winehouse. Maybe we can bring some DJs back from the dead, to plug their holographic USB sticks in. I vote for a Tony De Vit and DJ AM resurrection tour!

 

A few years back, I was lucky enough to be one of the 700,000 who saw Lord of the Rings – the Musical in London’s West End. I was amazed when at one point, Frodo slipped the ring on his finger, and instantly disappeared in the middle of the stage, while surrounded by actors. I suspect this same ghost technique was used for that illusion.


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