The Tech Behind The Tupac Hologram & How It Could Rock The World [MakeUseOf Explains]

When Tupac Shakur strode on stage at the 2012 Coachella Music Festival to perform a song with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, most of those in attendance were struck dumb with awe, because Tupac was shot and killed in 1996. Thanks to a combination of an old-time stage trick and modern technology he returned to life in virtual form in front of 100,000 stunned music fans.

There is talk of his holographic performance being extended to accommodate a full tour. It makes a lot of sense in making this happen. The possibility made me consider a future in which holographic projections such as the one which enabled Tupac fans to experience their hero one more time become standard. Both for those who are still performing music and those who have passed on.

Pepper’s Ghost

The technology behind the Tupac hologram is both amazing and simplistic at the same time. The technique being used actually dates back to at least the 19th century and is called ‘Pepper’s Ghost‘, named after John Henry Pepper. While he didn’t invent the technique, Pepper popularized it and the name stuck.

The technique was first described by Giambattista della Porta in the 16th century, and Henry Dircks is known to have used it in his Dircksian Phantasmagoria performances before Pepper brought it into mainstream theaters.

In those days the Pepper’s Ghost effect, which conjures a ghostly image in one room from an actual object in another, was brought to life using a sheet of plate glass. When the glass was angled correctly and had a light source aimed at it, a realistic image was displayed to the audience without them ever seeing the source.

These days Pepper’s Ghost is mainly used in haunted houses, theme parks, and museums. Amateur enthusiasts have even been know to rig up Pepper’s Ghost displays in their back gardens. But there is clearly a new use for this centuries-old technique which, with the addition of the latest AV equipment, could change the nature of live concerts.

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Modern Applications

According to MTV, Digital Domain is the company responsible for recreating the virtual form of Tupac, but it has also worked on Hollywood movies. Its credits including The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, in which it managed to convincingly age and de-age Brad Pitt, and Tron: Legacy, in which it shaved years off Jeff Bridges’ age. AV Concepts is responsible for actually projecting the hologram onto the stage, though it’s being careful not to reveal too many of its secrets.

We do know that the company uses a version of the Musion Eyeliner system, which it licenses from patent holder Musion Systems. The video embedded above shows how it works. This is essentially the Pepper’s Ghost technique but created using modern technology. The metallic foil that has replaced the glass is positioned on stage at a 45-degree angle to the audience. A video projector beams an HD image onto a reflective surface, which then reflects from the foil towards the audience, giving the illusion of someone or something being physically present.

This means anything that can be displayed on a video projector can be recreated on stage. Opening up an endless number of possibilities. It also means this isn’t a hologram as such, but merely an optical illusion. Unfortunately that doesn’t sound anywhere near as compelling.

Dead Musicians

Musicians who have long gone from this world could be brought back for one-off shows or even tours. Just like Tupac at Coachella. I would pay good money to see the following perform live.

Elvis Presley had become something of a caricature of his former self. Imagine seeing him as a young man setting out to change the world with a holographic version of him from the late 1950s, early 1960s. An Elvis Presley world tour would sell out in seconds. The technology would allow the King to return.

The Beatles were, are, and will forever remain, the greatest pop group of all time. With two of the four having now sadly passed away a world tour with holograms of the four Beatles in their heyday would make utter sense. The technology would allow for the group to be shown at different stages of their career.

Jimi Hendrix is probably the greatest guitarist who ever lived. Unfortunately he died way before his time, being a member of that exclusive group of musicians who died aged 27. The technology would give fans the opportunity to see a guitar god up on stage performing once more.

Queen were a true rock band, with a frontman that many consider to be the greatest of all time. Imagine a Queen tour with the real-life Brian May and Roger Taylor joined on stage by a holographic version of Freddie Mercury. The technology would allow one of the greatest showmen of all time emit his incredible stage presence again.

Michael Jackson was once the King of Pop. At the time of his death, Jackson was preparing to go out on tour; a grand, possibly final tour to thank all his fans. The technology would enable the hundreds of thousands who had tickets for This Is It! to fulfill their dream.

Live Musicians

This wouldn’t just be a boon for (the estates of) dead musicians. Living ones could utilize the technology in a number of different ways. Duets could be performed at concerts despite one party not being present. Former band members who then became solo artists could include sections of their gigs in which they re-team with their former bands. Artists who love themselves a little too much could create virtual clones to appear on stage with them.

The laziest performers could one day even send their holograms out on tour while they relax on holiday. An unlikely scenario perhaps, but if the technology keeps on improving there may come a day when an audience wouldn’t actually be able to tell the difference.


Would you pay money to see a concert performed entirely by a holographic representation of a music artist who is no longer with us? Would you like the spectacle of a real band adding holographic elements to their shows? What other uses can you imagine this innovation being used for? As always we want to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image Credits: evsmitty, Chrys Omori, locusolus

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