Holograms present celebs with new afterlife issues

Associated Press Modified: August 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm •  Published: August 21, 2012
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Tupac Shakur rose from the stage in the California desert earlier this year, it was not only a jaw-dropping resurrection, but also the beginning of a new form of live entertainment.

"Come with me," the digital Shakur called out, not just to tens of thousands of screaming fans but seemingly to other artists.

Follow, they will. Elvis Presley's estate announced it has authorized holograms of the King of Rock, Marilyn Monroe's estate has expressed interest and there's no shortage of other beloved stars whose fans would die to see them perform again.

Advances in digital artistry make it all possible, presenting celebrity estates with new commercial and creative opportunities, but also some ethical quandaries.

"I think we've scratched the surface with Tupac," said Dylan Brown, a filmmaker who along with director Philip Atwell and effects studio Digital Domain helped bring the Shakur hologram to life. "If it's done tastefully, like Tupac was done tastefully, I think it could be a wonderful form of entertainment."

Brown, owner of The Yard Entertainment, and Atwell, owner of Geronimo Films, had each toyed with the idea of using holograms in concerts for a decade, but the technology wasn't there. Brown, who works closely with Snoop Dogg and Atwell, who collaborates with Dr. Dre, knew that once they chose Shakur for the holographic debut, it had to be more than just a technological marvel.

"We wanted to be really respectful of the family foremost," said Atwell. "We just wanted to do something that wasn't in bad taste."

Reaction to the Shakur hologram was huge, with the performance garnering 15 million YouTube hits within 48 hours and winning a top award at the creative marketing gathering Cannes Lions.

"You start to open up a whole new universe of legal questions," said Ed Ulbrich, Chief Creative Officer of Digital Domain, which is also working on the Presley holograms. "As such, we have no intentions of doing anything other than being utterly respectful of these legends and icons."

Because it's two-dimensional, the Shakur performer isn't a true hologram, which, by definition, is a 3-D image (Ulbrich notes the technology isn't quite there for that). But it's a vivid digital creation that audiences are far more accustomed to seeing in movies — except there is no screen.

Brown and Atwell say part of its challenge was integrating Shakur's performance into the larger show featuring Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and others.

Shakur's entry and exit had to be carefully planned to fit into the show, with the creators opting to have his image burst apart into a cloud of gold specks. Brown and Atwell said the dissolve seemed most appropriate. "He has a mystique and that aura that kind of transcends death even," Brown said.

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