The Story Behind theVirtual Tupac Hologram (Updated)

Written by Rizoh. Posted in Spotlight, Ya Heard?!?!

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Published on April 16, 2012 with 1 Comment">1 Comment

Coachella has long been a breeding ground for music reunions, but the festival took that tradition to a new level this year, as Dr. Dre resurrected 2Pac for a collaborative performance. Sunday night, 2Pac took the stage, sagging pants, Timberlands, tattoos and all. He greeted the crowd, “What the fuck is up, Coachella?” before lunging into “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikkaz Most Wanted” with a living Snoop Dogg.

How did they pull that off? Unless you’re with the “Pac is alive somewhere in Africa, where he makes a tidy wage as a goat herder” conspiracy theory, please read on.

The concept
The hologram was designed by Sand Diego-based company, AV Concepts, which has also done holograms for the Gorillaz, Black Eyed Peas, and Celine Dion. Dr. Dre dreamed up the 2Pac project, according to Nick Smith, president of AV Concepts. “We worked with Dr. Dre on this and it was Dre’s vision to bring this back to life,” said Nick Smith. “It was his idea from the very beginning and we worked with him and his camp to utilize the technology to make it come to life. You can take their likenesses and voice and … take people that haven’t done concerts before or perform music they haven’t sung and digitally recreate it.”

The technology
According to the Verge, the basic technology behind the holographic illustration utilizes the same principle as “Pepper’s Ghost” effect, widely present in magic tricks and amusement parks. It’s the same technique that powers teleprompters and haunted houses.

AV Concepts used a combination of live footage, CGI, and wire-framing, which they fed into Musion’s holographic technology. This is where “Pepper’s Ghost” comes in. The idea is to make objects appear, disappear or whatever by using sophisticated lighting techniques.

More insight from The Verge:
“First, a video was composed by New York SFX company MPC using a mixture of live footage, wire-framing, and CGI. This was then fed into Musion’s holographic technology, which projects the image onto a special foil. The foil is based on principles set out in the old magician’s illusion Pepper’s Ghost, which trick audiences into thinking they’re viewing a person or object rather than a simple reflection. By using a lightweight foil which mimics the properties of semi-transparent glass, Musion is able to extend the concept’s scale without limiting the efficacy of the illusion. The results, as you can see in the video below, are pretty spectacular.”

The Cost
Smith wouldn’t reveal the actual price tag of the event, but he said it wasn’t anything like the $10 million tag that has been floating around. He told MTV that a similar concept could cost anywhere from $100,000 to more than $400,000. “I can’t say how much that event cost, but I can say it’s affordable in the sense that if we had to bring entertainers around world and create concerts across the country, we could put [artists] in every venue in the country.”

Turns out the Tupac Hologram is not a hologram at all. Holographic images appear in 3-D, says the Wall Street Journal; this guy is actually 2-D, which probably explains some of the motion glitches.

WSJ interviewed veteran illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer and he confirmed the Pepper’s Ghost technique mentioned earlier.

Pepper’s Ghost explained:
“The effect relies on an angled piece of glass in which a “ghostly” image is reflected. “A piece of glass can be both transparent and reflective at the same time, depending on how it’s situated relative to the audience,” said Mr. Steinmeyer, pointing out the secret.”

“In the Victorian version of the trick, the glass reflected an actual actor, situated out of sight in near the orchestra. On Sunday night, the image was projected on a piece of Mylar—a highly reflective, lightweight plastic—stretched on a clear frame.”

A small twist
“What’s happening in Coachella is virtually the same thing that was happening in 1862,” Mr. Steinmeyer said. One difference: In the Victorian era, Pepper’s Ghost was normally used to reflect actual, physical objects or actors, making them appear “dimensional” in ways that the projected or computer-generated imagery typically used today do not.”

So, they reanimated ‘Pac’s physical gestures (based on live recordings, footage, etcetera) and then projected the lifelike image on stage. They’re now mulling the idea of taking the thing on tour.


Rizoh is the most powerful man in all the lands. He lives in Houston, TX, where he earned a Ph.D. in Nerf Herding. He's the founder of The Rap Up, the editor of Roc4Life,'s rap guide, and a member of the Grammy-awaiting band Pervertable Disciples.

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