If you could go back in time and meet any celebrity in history who would it be? Maybe you’d like to see The Beatles perform live or watch Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain, thrash around stage. You might want to walk past Marilyn Monroe on a windy day or spend a day rummaging through Nicola Tesla's laboratory.
You’ve spent many sleepless nights trying to break the laws of physics to build that time machine. You’ve drained your bank account on celebrity merchandise to aid their resurrection. Well you can sleep and save your money because you’ll never get to meet these celebrities. However, Greek billionaire Alki David may have the next best thing: celebrity holograms.
Celebrity holograms have been around for some time now. In 2009, Celine Dion performed a duet with an Elvis hologram on American Idol. In 2012, Tupac made an appearance at Coachella. Even Michael Jackson was brought back to perform his posthumously released Slave to the Rhythm at the Billboard Music Awards. In fact, this technology’s been around since the 1940’s when it was invented by Hungarian scientist, Dennis Gabor.
With a growing interest in this trend, Alki David started his company, Hologram USA, in 2014 when he bought the patent for the Tupac hologram technology.
This technology has mainly been used for musical avenues of entertainment. Although people love to see their favourite musicians come back to life, what about holograms in stand-up comedy?
Hologram USA’s currently prepping for the comeback comedy tours of two comedic legends. One being Redd Foxx, who died in 1991, known for his starring role in Sanford and Son. Red Fox will be double billed with Andy Kaufman, whom you may know from Taxi, Saturday Night Live and David Letterman’s nightmares.
So where would you be able to catch these shows? David has deals in place with Apollo in Harlem, the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre in Branson and the Saban Theatre in Los Angeles. The hologram comedy club at the National Comedy Center in upstate New York is also opening next year. Comedy gods like George Carlin and Joan Rivers may be able to reach new audiences for generations to come.
All this talk about dead celebrities may have you feeling a little uncomfortable, meaning that a question of ethics comes into play. Is it ethical to parade these deceased celebrities around like puppets? Can’t we let these people rest in peace?
The Ethics Behind Celebrity Holograms
As we know, once you enter the limelight, the public owns you and all anonymity is gone, even beyond the grave. But rest assured that even though this may still seem like a money grab, the people behind the hologram technology want to reassure you that everything’s done with love.
Samantha Chang, who works at CMG Worldwide, explains “that every project is done with the utmost respect for the person’s life and work.”
While some people may be running around excited about being able to hear Whitney Houston’s magnetic vocals live, you may rather spend your time learning about world events.
Not to worry, the hologram industry hasn’t forgotten about you. Hologram projections of Julian Assange, a famous whistle blower, have even been used so he could appear in Nantucket, Mass. to deliver a speech.
Holograms in the Economy
There’s no doubt that holograms are part of an expanding market that’s filled with economic opportunity. John Textor says that “this technology is giving you the opportunity to extend your brand, whether you’re late or living. You can perform in multiple places at once. You can perform against your own digital likeness. With an animated human, you can go to Coca-Cola and say, ‘You can have Elvis with a guitar on the beach’ in your ad — some new scenario.”
We already have the technology, so what’s the big deal? Critics argue that technology used today isn’t exactly a “hologram.” Hologram USA uses a technique known as Pepper’s Ghost, which uses angled glass to project a transparent, seemingly 3D reflection of an object hidden from the audience.
Jim Steinmeyer, a well-respected designer of magical illusions and special effects, explains how “A hologram is a three-dimensional image formed using laser light and I’m not aware of anyone in the entertainment industry using those.” He doesn’t argue that Holograms exist. If you were to pullout your driver’s license there’s a hologram on there, but as for Tupac and Elvis? “Those aren’t holograms,” says Steinmeyer, “They’re just a fancy version of a 153-year-old trick.”
So how does Hologram USA pull off their “holograms?” Their technology uses a translucent foil as a reflection surface instead of glass, allowing the image to move seamlessly across the stage. So, basically, we’re seeing a 2D object that looks like a 3D image.
So when will we have “real” holograms?
“The problem is scale and motion,” says scientist V. Michael Bove, the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Object-Based Media Group and an expert in holography. “You can make a small, static hologram pretty easily. To make a big one that moves, you need powerful color lasers, you need 3-D modeling and you need to be able to be taking 24 to 30 photos of it per second. And what are you reflecting the images off of? It’s impractical and expensive, and we’re still a ways off from making that truly accessible.”