When Tupac Shakur took the stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 15th to perform two of his hits for a crowd of 100,000; “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” with Snoop Dogg, it became one of the most talked-about performances of the year. An instant internet sensation, it captured the attention of not only fans of the late rapper – who was gunned down in 1996 – but others as well who were captivated by the resurrection of a performer by technological means. Immediately following the performance, however, were the widespread rumors and speculation fueled by a story in the Wall Street Journal that a world tour was in the works, featuring the hologram of Tupac with a number of performers, including Snoop Dogg and the hologram’s brainchild, rapper/producer Dr. Dre. The idea of taking the hologram of a celebrity on tour is troubling.
How does this work? The “hologram” of Tupac was not an actual hologram, but a modern take on Victorian-era optical illusion called “Pepper’s Ghost”, where a projection of an individual is reflected onto a piece of highly reflective Mylar and bounced off onto a mesh screen. The computer imaging of Tupac was done by the Oscar-winning visual effects house, Digital Domain Media Group, Inc. – who won the visual effects award for 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the Pepper’s Ghost projections were done by AV Concepts, a company that has used this techinque for other concert events and for corporate events. The process cost $100,000 to $400,000. Although some specifics of the process itself remain unclear, it was Dr. Dre that was was behind the idea of bringing the late rapper to the Coachella stage. He had also looked into bringing another late rapper to the Coachella stage, Nate Dogg, but decided against it.
While it is not the sci-fi version we all think of when we hear “hologram”, the technology has existed for sometime, with a concert event that brought back crooner Frank Sinatra in 2003 and a concert event last November that had Mariah Carey performing at five different venues simultaneously. And of course, CNN used a blue-screen format of holographing to “bring’ correspondent and rapper Will.I.Am into the newsroom during their coverage of the 2008 Presidential election. But the detailed 3D imaging of Tupac, as well as the choreography with Snoop Dogg made the concert experience feel as natural as if Tupac himself was alive and performing.
A week after the event, Dr. Dre countered claims made even by his own representatives, saying that the hologram of Tupac was intended for Coachella only, and that plans for a tour were not true. He did, however, leave a door open to the possibility of touring in the future. But while Dr. Dre asked permission for Tupac’s likeness from his mother, Afeni beforehand, other deceased artists may soon be making a comeback – for the benefit of a performer’s estate. Although deceased performers have appeared in computer generated imagery for recorded events, live performances of hologrammed celebrities could be a boon for their estates. The discussion of who would be the next to make a comeback has already forced Roger Taylor, the drummer from Queen, to state that the band has absolutely no intention of performing with a hologram of their late frontman, Freddy Mercury., stating that the idea “did not sit well” with him.
To me, having hologrammed tours of celebrities is not only a cash grab by estates, but downright creepy, even if the planners of these tours have good intentions. For example, the surviving members of the R&B trio, TLC, announced on the 10th anniversary of the passing of member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez that they are looking into bringing Lopez back for a tribute tour. But the announcement from the Jackson Brothers on their plans to try and resurrect the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, sounds more like a family attempting to once again capitalize on the success of a deceased singer. And singers from Whitney Houston to Elvis Prestley are all up for consideration for tours.
What disturbs me is that if this becomes a macabre trend, this Tupac stunt – meant to memorialize – would become a way for estates and even recording labels to keep a recording artist’s career continuing long after their death. This would not be such an issue if I didn’t know that many fans of artists would sell out tickets. These cash grab attempts would be robbing the very humanity of the performer, just making them caricatures of their former selves. That unsettles me, arenas of die-hard fans at an arena, singing along with a ghost onstage. They are no longer there for the performer, but their songs and career. If it proves successful, I’m sure other mediums of entertainment, such as news, television, and films will want in as well. And recording labels would not be as sensitive as Dr. Dre was when he approached Tupac’s mother. Once a star passes, it would become a footnote in a seemingly eternal career. And for $100,000 – $400,000, it is a cheaper method of keeping performers in business. It’s a chilling vision of a future that i hope never comes to fruition.
Tupac, who was 25 when he died, would have been 41 this year.