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Tupac, Freddie, and Building a Better Hologram

May 31, 2012 | William Zimmerman
By Gary Boas,

We've heard quite a bit about holography lately. It all began last month when an apparition of rapper Tupac Shakur, who died in 1996, showed up at the Coachella music festival. And then, of course, there was the media frenzy that inevitably followed ("will the Tupac hologram go on tour?" "what other deceased rappers and rock stars will get the holographic treatment?"). 

The thing is, we never saw a hologram to begin with. A few days after the Coachella performance, the good people at Gizmodo reported that Tupac was in fact a 2-D CGI animation that rapped alongside Snoop Dogg by way of Pepper's Ghost -- a reflection technique named after mid-19th-century optics researcher John Pepper, which has found ample use over the years in magic shows and haunted houses. 

Unfortunately, this did nothing to stem the full-on "dead celebrity hologram" craze that's rolled across the US and the UK. Early this month, for example, the BBC asked Queen guitarist Brian May whether frontman Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991, would be resurrected in holographic form. May -- a trained physicist who, I'm convinced, lives to give me things to write about: see: We = Rock (You) and Rock 'n' Roll Optics -- said that the band had in fact developed an effect that was set to appear onstage during an anniversary performance of We Will Rock You, the musical based on Queen's music. He stressed, though, that this would be "an optical illusion of sorts," most definitely not a hologram -- a distinction that seems to have fallen largely on deaf ears. 

So, what will it take? Clearly, there's a demand for life-size holograms of rappers and singers who have slipped the mortal coil -- there has been for almost two months now. What do we have to do to make it happen? 

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