By Jim McCarthy Apr 18, 2012 1 comment

Holograms: Not Just for Dead People

The Tupac hologram appearance at Coachella was stunning.  It amazed and startled people because it was a surprise, and it was done in service of a poignant moment, the anniversary of Shakur’s death.  Taken together, it was a rare moment where a technology “debuts” in an artistically successful way.

Since then, the talk about holograms and holographic projections has centered on what I think are ultimately going to prove to be the wrong questions: Should Paul and Ringo create holograms of John and George and do a Beatles tour?  Can Jon Bon Jovi sit poolside in New Jersey holding an X-Box controller and “perform” via hologram in Cleveland?

Wrong questions, wrong line of thinking.

In the future, it will be easy to project holographic images into a 3D space.  It’s not hard to envision that ultimately rather than a TV or computer monitor, you may have a mini “stage” in your living room which is capable of producing a truly 3d image, so that you could actually walk around the stage and see the back of an object or look at it from any angle you choose.  Certainly, on a professional level and in a major venue, this will be achievable in a matter of years rather than decades.  Given advances in motion and even thought based “controllers,” there’s every reason to think that a performer or even just a consumer sitting at home could control or at very least interact with those 3d objects.

This is one of those things that’s not so much possible as nearly inevitable.  All the pieces are in place, but no one has put them together well, for the moment.

So why the hell are we asking if we can resurrect people via hologram and trot them out on stage as though they were alive?  That’s what happened in this instance (and, it appears, will happen with Michael Jackson on Immortal once it lands in Vegas for good), but this the kind of early-days stuff that people do when they don’t understand the medium yet.

In the early days of e-commerce, many practitioners wanted to create “online malls” and even went so far as to create user interfaces that replicated a mall that you “walked” through.  That all ended when Amazon put a stop to the nonsense by creating e-commerce built for the capabilities of the medium.

So what good is a hologram?  Don’t think of it as a tool for putting someone there who isn’t (or can’t) be there.  The implication of that is that if they could be there, that would be better.  Like skyping when you can’t actually visit.

This technology, when more fully realized, gives live entertainment producers the ability to put just about any kind of object on stage, have it do just about anything they want, and make it an object that can be interacted with in just about any way they would want a live person to interact with it.  It dramatically narrows the gap between what’s possible in film and what’s possible on the stage in areas like special effects and realism.  On one level, you get a realistic (whatever that means) ghost instead of some guy painted white.  On another level, you get a dream sequence appearing over a character’s head that fully realizes a flying over Manhattan on a horse.

On still another level, you get these objects, whatever they may be, interacting with each other and a performer in ways that are unique to each performance.  Like a harpist plucking the strings of a harp, perhaps performers use these non-physical objects to produce sounds, or light or movement in a way that becomes art.

True, we’ve got a long way to go to get there, but the path is shorter if somebody takes up the challenge.  Doing this well will get cheaper and easier and it will go from being about technology to being about art.

So get ready: realistic and interactive objects are coming to the stage.  And it’s not just going to be golden oldies brought back to life. It could very well be the future itself.

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    1 Comment

    • Pat Maddox

      I see a lot of potential in using this kind of technology to enhance live performances. I got to see Cirque’s Iris the other night and was blown away by the combination of stunning human performance and the visual technology used to add new levels of depth to the performance.

      It won’t take long for dead-people-as-holograms to become cliche. There’s a real opportunity here for artists to play with traditional mediums and give audiences unique experiences.