“Heroes get remembered, but Legends never die,” The Babe stated in the classic film The Sandlot. Turns out, with today’s technology, that statement has never been more true than in the music industry. And anyone who has ever questioned the mysterious deaths of some of music’s most famous legends, like Tupac, may be getting their “I told you so” moment after all. With a bit of clever visual effects technology, the music industry is now bringing their greatest stars back to life.
At this year’s Coachella Music Festival, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg joined the stage with one of rap music’s fallen heroes, Tupac Shakur. The same team that did the visual effects for Brad Pitt’s character in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Digital Domain Media Group Inc., were able to create a lifelike Tupac who moved about the stage, interacted with his fellow performers, and even addressed the Coachella crowd.
The performance was not pre-recorded from any of Tupac’s concerts while alive. Instead, Digital Domain studied movements and physical characteristics from Tupac’s previous performances to create something completely original.
And while some have said the performance was a product of a 3D hologram, it was actually just a 2D image. In fact, it’s a visual effects trick that dates back to 1862 when it was first used as Pepper’s Ghost in a stage interpretation of Charles Dicken’s “The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain” at the Royal Polytechnic Institute in London, said illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer.
The Wall Street Journal quoted Steinmeyer on the illusion:
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.
“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.
The Tupac performance is not the first time something like that has been done either. Steinmeyer himself is responsible for bringing Sinatra back to life for a concert in 2003. And the company who owns the patent for this illusion, Musion Systems Ltd., licenses over 30 companies the rights to this technology — one of which is responsible for the animated band, The Gorillaz, performing at the 2006 Grammy Awards.
As long as this illusion has been around, it is still only the beginning for the music industry. With the success of Tupac’s Coachella performance others have caught a whiff of what a profitable and remarkable idea this is. Freddy Mercury’s optical illusion is scheduled to appear at the 10th anniversary of the musical, “We Will Rock You,” and Dre and Snoop have said they may be taking Tupac on tour with them later this year.
The implications of this are huge. Can we really bridge a generational gap by having our children see Elvis and Frank Sinatra live? And would the Beatles still be able to sell out a stadium? Let us know what you think about all this in the comments below.