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Holographic Projection: Ahead of the Curve or Hipster Novelty?

March 29, 2015 | Telepresence Options

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Story and images by Dan Dale / InfoComm International

In show business, being dead has often been a viable career option. Just ask Elvis, Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix, all of whom still sell more records than many indie bands. In 2012, holographic technology upped the ante for dearly departed music stars when audiences at that year's Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., were stunned by the reunion on stage of deceased rapper Tupac Shakur with the very alive Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.

The phenomenon of bringing celebrities to new life in the form of holographic avatars had some remarkable precursors, such as Paula Abdul dancing with the departed Gene Kelly, and Natalie Cole paired with her late father Nat King Cole on the "Unforgettable" music video. But those were cartoons compared to the jolt Tupac's resurrection elicited, both at Coachella, as well in the culture and technology pages. The former saw in it the future, or were creeped out or both. The latter mostly reveled in picking it apart like a reverse-engineered iPhone, pointing out that at its core it was a slick updating of a theatrical gag that's been around since President Lincoln went to see "Our American Cousin."

The hologram owes its basic mechanics to a Victorian-era illusion called Pepper's Ghost, invented by an English scientist and introduced to theaters in the 1860s. In that case, the "ghost" was an actor located forward of and below the stage floor. The actor was gradually more brightly illuminated while the stage area was progressively darkened, which caused the image of the actor to become visible to the audience in a piece of glass -- transparent yet reflective -- located on stage and angled so that the audience could see the reflection but also still see the stage set behind it, making the reflected actor's image look as if it were onstage.

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