Fans at Coachella in 2012 were treated to a surprise performance by the late Tupac Shakur, who passed away in 1996. Referred to as a “hologram” by many at the performance, this digital image was actually based on a century-old trick called pepper’s ghost. Six projectors were hung from the ceiling above the stage and pointed down at a sheet of Mylar hung at a 45 degree angle. The resulting reflection created an incredibly life-like Tupac live performance.
Though it sounds like a simple parlor trick, the technology behind creating the image of a convincing-looking live performer is nothing short of state of the art. Fans and technology buffs alike starting going crazy, and the performance made global headlines. Two years later, the people behind the project also created a digital Michael Jackson performance for the 2014 Billboard Music Awards.
“When the people who knew Michael best started crying at the show, we knew we’d done something. Then we started crying.” Says John Textor, the man credited as the pioneer of this new industry, known as holographic entertainment.
Textor has extensive experience in both entertainment and technology. Textor has found business success in different industries, working with snowboards and children’s products before working for Digital Domain and Pulse Evolution Corporation, for which he is better-known. In 1997, Textor co-founded Wyndcrest Holdings, a private equity firm focused on entertainment, telecommunication, and internet.
In 2006, Textor became the CEO and chairman of Digital Domain and its parent company, Digital Domain Media Group. The companies have done the visual effects for more than 80 different films, 25 of which were done under Textor’s leadership. Films like Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Ender’s Game are examples of the work of Digital Domain. The company also earned multiple academy awards for their work creating the first believable performance by a digital character in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Textor began working more with film when he became a producer and executive producer for Ender’s Game. He’s currently working as a producer for the upcoming Disney movie Art Story, with acclaimed director Aaron Blaise.
He has moved on from Digital Domain, to become executive chairman of Pulse Evolution Corporation. Pulse is a digital production that specializes in the applications of computer-generated human likeness.
Meanwhile, three years later, the world is still buzzing about these “holograms.” The Michael Jackson performance generated more than 98 billion internet impressions worldwide.
“We’re hearing from a lot of estates and promoters saying, ‘We’re ready for a concert,'” says Textor. The list of possibilities for turning deceased artists into live performances is as long as the list of deceased artists.
Beyond this, there could be many applications for the technology, from creating life-like virtual surgeries for studying med students, or 3D combat simulations for soldiers. Where Textor takes the world with this exciting technology is yet to be seen, but sure to excite.