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Tupac hologram may open doors for other dead celebrities

posted 2 Jun 2012, 00:39 by Mpelembe   [ updated 2 Jun 2012, 00:40 ]

Producers of the Tupac hologram that impressed at Coachella, open up about the creation process and whether fans will ever get another glimpse of the rapper.

INDIO, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (FILE) (CHRONIC TOURING/DIGITAL DOMAIN) - The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has been attracting bigger and better music performances, but 2012 saw not only the top hip-hop stars of today but a legendary rapper from the past: Tupac Shakur.

Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg resurrected late rapper as an onstage hologram singing hit songs and wowing crowds alongside other hip hop stars to close out both weekends of the festival.

The life-sized figure of Shakur, who died at age 25 in a 1996 shooting, appeared on stage with Snoop Dogg, momentarily stunning the nearly 90,000 fans in attendance.

The Tupac hologram performed two songs with Snoop Dogg before dissipating into thin air, leaving the audience in awe, and somewhat unsettled, by the technology used to make the rapper reappear and perform.

The production team behind the project include music impresarios Dylan Brown and Philip Atwell, as well as help from the performers themselves, Snoop and Dre.

The image itself was developed by a company that has made a name for itself in impressive digital effects: Digital Domain. The company, co-founded by James Cameron in 1993, was the design powerhouse behind aging Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Tron: Legacy."

Ed Ulbrich, the Chief Creative officer at Digital Domain, said that despite the company's Academy Award winning work for visual effects, the Tupac project pushed everyone out of their comfort zones.

"We've really built a robust toolset. The first time you do it, it's really hard, really tedious, takes a lot of people and it's expensive," said Ulbrich. "It gets better, faster, cheaper over time. But I still don't want to discount how incredibly difficult it is to create a digital human being. That's still the hardest thing that can be done."

Getting Tupac's likeness correct was the primary concern of the creative team at Digital Domain as well as both Atwell and Brown.

"It was more than in the back of our minds, it was in our hearts, in our fears even. We knew we were working with the best in the business but I think everybody was just motivated to make this thing work because the last thing we wanted to do was offend his family, the people who knew him, and obviously the fans. The last thing you want to do is put something out there that was a slap in the face to his legacy," said Brown.

The creation was not a simple process. Most digital renderings of humans are done with the real-life subject in the studio to use as a model. With Tupac, animators had only images, video and personal recollections.

"It was like we had good Tupac days and we'd have bad Tupac days," said Atwell. "For a long time we didn't show anybody what we were doing because the process was really one of those things that when the last touch was put on, it was like, okay, then we're there."

The Tupac hologram is a full CGI image, projected using technology developed by AV Concepts. Tupac is not the first hologram to impress audiences. CNN has used holograms of its own correspondents for news coverage, Elvis Presley sang a duet with Celine Dion on American Idol in 2009 and Mariah Carey performed a holiday show entirely in hologram. What sets Tupac's appearance apart is that the Coachella performance is an original, foregoing any previously recorded footage of the rap star.

The success of Tupac's appearance got the entertainment world buzzing about who the next performer to come back to life will be. Reuters commissioned a poll of who the most popular holograms would be with Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley topping the list.

While bringing celebrities back from the dead opens an array of marketing opportunities, the next "live" performance" by Elvis, Johnny or Ray will likely face significant hurdles including copyright concerns their image and music.