Over the last seven years, we’ve seen an interesting thing happen with the use of holograms bringing celebrities back to life on the public stage. What makes that evolution interesting is the use of holograms now uses such a simple special effect procedure that gives the illusion the performer is literally standing on the stage. It didn’t start out that way if you remember back to 2007 on “American Idol’s” finale when Celine Dion sang a duet with a hologram of Elvis Presley. Back then, the technology was slightly different in using a method called rotoscoping where an image of a notable person was digitally cut out of a video and inserted into reality.
What made rotoscoping more complicated is that you could only see Elvis with Celine Dion up on the monitor if you attended “American Idol” live that night. On stage, he was invisible because they couldn’t place a hologram in real space quite yet.
It’s only been in the last few years when a new idea was created that went back and utilized one of the earliest special effects for the stage: Pepper’s Ghost. This simply used the process of reflecting an image in a way so it appears it’s standing in third-dimensional space. Pepper’s Ghost used mirrors, but today’s new holographic effect utilizes a transparent surface (made of Mylar) that merely projects a digital image of the notable person.
You saw the above effect done a couple of years ago at Coachella with the Tupac Shakur hologram that took this technology by storm. It looked so real that people in the audience could swear he was actually on the stage. It was merely a trick of the eye, and the trick would have been exposed if you were looking at it from a different angle. Seen from straight on, departed entertainers can move around and cover the entire length of a stage based on the length of the reflective Mylar surface.
The actual creation of the image to be reflected is a whole other digital bag of tricks that’s more of an industry secret. Regardless, CGI is obviously utilized, including perhaps creating new bodies for the likes of Michael Jackson who looked like he’d been physically resurrected on The Billboard Music Awards on May 18. With far too many feeling unsettled about this technology, where is it going to go, and who else might be resurrected in ways that looks a little too real?
Will We See Holograms Used in Movies as Well as the Stage?
No doubt producers are already working on bringing beloved entertainers who’ve died back to the stage in complete concerts. Imagine attending a full concert of a late entertainer to give the illusion you’re seeing them live as perhaps your parents or grandparents did years earlier. It’s a haunting thought and one already tried a few times with different technology. Everyone from Elvis to Frank Sinatra have had shows using technology giving the illusion they’re actually on the stage. The families of other entertainers, though, might be as apprehensive as Michael Jackson’s siblings are about the hologram.
What about the movies, though? Back in 2012, after the Tupac hologram at Coachella, I wondered on Yahoo! Movies whether this simple holographic effect could be used in movies to bring departed actors and entertainers back in cameos. Resurrecting departed actors in movies has been a bone of contention already for close to 20 years when CGI first began. Back then, there was already talk about creating CGI cameos of names like Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn, or Marilyn Monroe just so we could see them back on the screen again in a realistic way.
Had they done it back then, it would have been painfully unconvincing. However, we’ve already seen Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe making cameos in TV commercials recently in a way that looks alarmingly real.
The new holographic effect with Michael Jackson above also looks so real that it might be a cheaper solution in a movie without having to use complicated CGI to give the illusion of life. With something as simple as that above reflective surface, the advent of bringing old actors back and interacting in real time with a present-day star may not be far off.
We’ll have to wait and see how the public warms to doing more of this, even if it’s forced on the public against their will. It may have to involve one of the most challenging debates in the world of entertainment: Should a departed celebrity only be seen in the environments they once inhabited, or should they be translated into the present day?