Tupac Shakur is back in the headlines again for his posthumous show-stopping performance at Coachella last weekend, which just about everyone took to be a 3D hologram. It simply looked too realistic not to be, as you can sort of tell from the video above.
However, ”Virtual Tupac” wasn’t a real hologram in the sense that most of us imagine them to be — free-floating three-dimensional images. Instead, the Tupac who wowed the Coachella throngs was a holographic projection onto a mylar screen, bounced off of a reflective surface on the floor using technology from Musion, with production by Digital Domain. [Update: AV Concepts also provided technology for this, but tells Evolver.fm's Andy Cush it is not talking to press until after the second round of Coachella shows.]
Snoop Dogg, who appeared to rap with Tupac, stood behind the screen to complete the illusion, as noted by Rolling Stone. This was all part of Dr. Dre’s grand vision to reanimate the deceased star — a fitting development, given that Tupac has released more albums after his death than before it.
So why wasn’t Virtual Tupac a “real” hologram? For starters, one possible reason is that some hologram technologies don’t like loud noises, according to Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn. He tried the same thing a couple of years ago and found it to be impossible barring a “silent disco” approach.
As Albarn told me,
“You can’t do a live gig with holograms at the moment. There is no technology to do it. We know how to do it, but you can’t play a proper, stonking, kick-ass gig with holograms because — [whispers] it has to be super quiet. If anyone who reads this knows a way of doing it — we’d love to have [the virtual Gorillaz members] dancing around with us onstage. It’d be brilliant.”
Two years later, the technology clearly exists to have virtual or deceased characters appear to dance around on stage — but as 2D projections, not as actual 3D holograms.
Our admittedly-limited research into the topic indicates that the Star Wars-inspired concept of projecting a 3D image without using a screen or some other fixed medium will likely remain out of reach for the foreseeable future — in part because light doesn’t just stop in the middle of the air and refract or reflect without hitting something.
However, this idea of “live music apps” containing virtual musicians playing real gigs is all too real. Virtual Tupac is not the only one doing it, even if “he” did require a screen. And interestingly, this wasn’t even footage of Tupac, but rather a digital construction of a performance that never existed.
Zenph Sound Innovations, which makes playerless pianos and singalong apps, which confirmed to Evolver.fm that it was not involved with Virtual Tupac, is working on similar technology that can have, say, Beethoven play a song you wrote, but in his style. Zenph recently projected rare footage of George Gershwin for a performance of his “Rhapsody In Blue” in Dallas.
As for Virtual Tupac, his people are considering sending him on tour, which is pretty neat. But one thing it is not is a Princess Leia-style 3D-projected hologram.
It also wasn’t new. Here’s a demonstration of the same Musion technology from June 2009 featuring live performers: