It's a well known fact that the brand value of dead celebrities lives far beyond the celebrities themselves. Bob Marley may have died in 1981, but his name has made him immortal, at least in terms of earning power. Elvis continues to have perennial brand presence, getting an extra boost from Graceland's year-long celebration of his life in this, the 35th anniversary of his death.
But this past weekend, a whole new form of dead celebrity worship came to life at the Coachella music festival in California. On Sunday night, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog performed "live" on stage with Tupac Shakur, the rapper who was killed in 1996. Of course, Dre and Snoop performed live; Tupac's performance was a holographic video with updated audio tailored to the crowd. Still, the image was so seemingly alive and so stunning that it may prompt a Tupac tour, according to The Wall Street Journal.
During the concert, Tupac's digital ghost appeared to be interacting with the other performers and playing to the shocked crowd. He even shouted, "What the f*** is up, Coachella!" — particularly disconcerting since Coachella did not exist until after the rapper's death.
Tupac's appearance was especially extraterrestrial because it was not simply rehashed from previous performances of the rapper; instead, it was created for the Coachella concert.
"To create a completely synthetic human being is the most complicated thing that can be done," commented Ed Ulbrich, chief creative officer for Digital Domain, one of the companies behind the project, to the Journal. "This is not found footage. This is not archival footage. This is an illusion."
Credit for the stunt goes to Dr. Dre for the idea. The Beats by Dr. Dre founder collaborated for four months with Digital Domain, the tech firm owned by movie director James Cameron, and two companies specializing in hologram technology, AV Concepts and Musion Systems.
The process they used for Tupac's Coachella recreation involved computer-generated image and voice. The image is then projected onto Mylar. Technically, the end product is not a hologram, because it is two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional. A similar approach was used to create the illusion that "Gorillaz," an animated band, played on stage with a holographic Madonna at the 2006 Grammy Awards.
The technique has been used in brand advertising as well: Last year, Toyota employed a holographic Japanese pop star, Hatsune Miku, to play before live audiences on promote the 2012 Corolla, while Mariah Carey appeared holographically in a multi-city, European multi-media show pitching T-Mobile last Christmas.
Tupac, however, is the first dead entertainer that has been presented "live." Which gets one thinking, doesn't it? Writes Claire Suddath for Bloomberg Businessweek, "The Tupac hologram is as close as we've come to raising the dead. How long will it be before we send Elvis Presley back to Vegas?"
Well, ma'am, that's a possibility, but Ed Ulbrich, whose company also created the award-winning special effects in 2008's film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, isn't done exploring the live potential just yet.
Ulbrich thinks the technology could be used for live, dead, and even fictional people. He told Bloomberg Businessweek, "Now that we've developed the tools to do this, we can start to look at other applications — advertising, commercial work; until now things like this haven't been feasible. Nothing is real and everything is possible."