How to bring rock stars back to life as holograms

Like everyone on earth with an internet connection we were blown away by Tupac’s appearance at Coachella and we’re more than a little curious about the rumours that we could soon be seeing the rapper (or other dead rock stars) touring the world in hologram form. To paraphrase the Insane Clown Posse “Holograms – how do they work?”

Keen to find out more about this technology, we got in touch with Joel Solloway, a hologram expert who has been working in special event design and production for over 20 years.

Solloway used to be a partner working on holographic staging with Musion, the company who staged Tupac’s Coachella performance, but he sold his interest in that partnership after the business “paid way too much for their license which just covered the inflated price of projection foil.”

Since he left Musion he has partnered with European companies, who like Musion have perfected the art of volumetric holography. In addition to large format holographic design, he works creating and designing content for holographic displays utilized for retail environments, trade shows, museums and other visual exhibits. Oh, and he also announced on Twitter late last year that he’s “Working on an international project specific to the world of rock n roll. A very big deal”

Solloway is the holographic technology guru working on the highly anticipated One Great Night On Earth festival. The festival’s Project Director, Lyndel Moore, told us earlier this month that Joel contacted them with his proposal to resurrect a famous lead singer on stage at the festival through his friendship with Chip Monck, the festival’s Director of Production, who also worked on a few other huge music events including Woodstock, Monterey Pop Festival, and the Rolling Stones American tours in 1969 and 1972.

One Great Night On Earth decided that the hologram was “cheesy, there was no way we were going to do it” but as we have seen at Coachella this technology can be staggeringly impressive if it’s done right. Lyndel Moore told us that “Originally we thought we’d need some ground breaking piece because we didn’t quite know the full ilk of our lineup, but at this stage we don’t know if we can fit it in. If it doesn’t happen in year one it will definitely happen in year two”.

The identity of the famous rock star the festival will be bringing back to life is strictly under wraps for now, but FasterLouder got in touch with Joel Solloway to talk about the technology and what he’ll be helping to present at the One Great Night On Earth festival.

As we’ve only seen the footage on video could you describe what it’s like to see a hologram up close? How solid and lifelike does it appear?

Very real depending on how well the content was created and the resolution standards. This type of projection can create a 1020×1080 pixel resolution. The image is extremely solid and with proper backlighting, the illusion is quite real to the eye.

How has this technology been developed – film special effects? Military?

Believe it or not, the technology was developed back in 1849 by a physicist named John Pepper. He utilized glass to transpose images from one plane to another in a still format. Disney incorporated this technology in 1959 at the original Disneyland.

Is what we saw at Coachella a very recent development or has this been possible for a while?

It’s been around since 2006, but not at the resolution were able to create today.

When did this technology first become available for concert performances?

It was used at the European MTV awards with the Gorillaz and Madonna. Since then the European and Middle Eastern markets have utilised this for corporate programs.

How is the hologram created? Do you use old footage of the performer? Or is it a motion capture Andy Serkis-style affair?

Old footage can be motion captured and matted with sophisticated 3D animation programs, or in most cases, original content is developed for specific applications.

Similarly how do you recreate the voice? Is it a pre-existing recording or a new imitation/impersonator?

I believe the Tupac track was the original.

Is the hologram all pre-recorded or can you manipulate it live so that it can respond directly to the crowd reaction?

Depends on the content. If created for original production, we utilize the Dataton Watchout system to coordinate and control playback. This is a system that we use exclusively.

How close can a live performer get to the hologram before the illusion breaks? (Snoop seemed to be keeping his distance from the hologram Tupac)

The only reason Snoop was some distance was that he did not want to run through the hologram. He was watching via a monitor very much like a weatherman on TV when looking at maps which are just green screen. Would not be too cool if the two performers magically crossed paths going through the other.

Can you present more than one hologram on stage at a time and if so can they interact

Yup. All in the content development.

What conditions are required to present the hologram – obviously it needs to be dark but we’ve seen that it can be presented outdoors. Can rain or other issues cause problems when projecting the image?

Rain and wind are major considerations. If the foil moves too much the hologram becomes distorted. Just got to watch the weather forecast.

How much does it cost to generate the image per minute?

Costs vary according to content and length. The Tupac was probably not as expensive as you might think mainly because the content was pretty much shot and edited per a performance that a camera captured his entire on stage head to foot profile. Animation can be expensive based on layers, complexity etc. $25K-$500K. However, unless you’re doing body doubling or restricted mapping techniques, you’ll never see that $500K figure.

The hologram performance also raises a few legal issues. Who do you have to get permission from? The estates of the deceased performer? Labels?

All of the above if you’re attempting to recreate a performance.

Is this something that we’re likely to see much more of in the coming years – tours from Elvis, Kurt Cobain etc – or do you think this will be a brief novelty?

No, this technology will only evolve. We’re finding all sorts of applications. From entertainment, to wayfinding to insertion of trackerless markers for Augmented Reality experience.

What future developments are being worked on with this hologram technology?

As previously mentioned AR can be of great significance for retailers who can generate metrics with consumers looking at holographic image in retail stores etc. Remote location of holograms are another interesting application. Placing holographic images in multiple locations across the globe will allow for instant communications with a person being in multiple locations at one time. With the Cisco Telepresence, the transmission vehicle and bandwidth is in place.