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Tupac's Hologram Appearance Sparks Trend, Raises Issues

June 27, 2012 | William Zimmerman cnn hologram.jpg
Marilyn Monroe Hologram Concert in the Works Amid Growing Controversy

The trend ignited by a Tupac Shakur resurrection in the desert portends rights battles of epic proportions.

By Eriq Gardner, The Holywood Reporter via ISPR

This story originally appeared in the June 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When Tupac Shakur took the stage in hologram form at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April, hundreds of thousands of onlookers reveled in seeing one of hip-hop's greatest performers seemingly brought back from the dead. Shakur's music soon returned to the Billboard 200 album chart for the first time since 2000, and almost immediately, word spread about a possible tour.

But in the weeks since that headline-grabbing stunt, many in the music community have begun wondering about the potential financial and legal repercussions from using technology to resurrect legendary artists onstage, even as speculation has centered on which superstars might be next to receive the hologram treatment.

For instance, The Hollywood Reporter has learned that a "live" Marilyn Monroe concert is being planned to take place before year's end with the working title Virtual Marilyn Live -- A Musical Celebration of the Birth of the Pop Icon. The concert, which has yet to secure a venue (organizers also plan to stream it on the web), will feature the projected blond bombshell singing and interacting alongside live music stars. Becky Altringer, managing director and co-founder of Digicon Media, the company doing the planning, says the event will employ the technology used at Coachella to launch virtual Marilyn's new career as "a performer, spokesperson, cultural pundit and computer avatar."

Who's next? Will Elvis Presley return to play Vegas? How about a Jackson 5 reunion mixing the surviving members with a hologram of Michael Jackson? CNN already has incorporated holograms into its election coverage, and TV commercials have used footage of Fred Astaire and Marlene Dietrich to hawk products.

The potential new revenue stream from live holograms could boost an already lucrative business for the estates of some of the most iconic dead celebrities. Jackson raked in $170 million in 2011, according to Forbes. Presley took home $55 million. Monroe, despite having died of an apparent drug overdose nearly 50 years ago, didn't do badly at all with $27 million. "I would say there could be an uptick [in revenue]," says Mark Roesler, head of CMG Worldwide, an Indiana-based agency representing the estates of stars including Andy Kaufman and Natalie Wood. "Whether that is 10 or 30 or 40 percent is hard to tell, but it will be an uptick."

Hologram technology also could spread beyond dead musicians. Think Marlon Brando performing A Streetcar Named Desire live onstage. Or a virtual Jimmy Stewart starring in a remake of It's a Wonderful Life. Or Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's home run record in front of a stadium full of nostalgic fans. The adult entertainment industry, always quick to adopt new technology, also could make interesting use of holograms.

"There is a genuine feeling that this is cool and this is the future," says Justin Wilkes, executive vp media and entertainment at @radical, a firm that has created holograms on behalf of advertising clients like Deutsche Telekom. "Audiences are craving the experiential, and if you can give them an immersive experience and take them through a story, the possibilities become incredibly exciting. Imagine what happens when James Cameron and Martin Scorsese come on board." Indeed, the Hugo director has said, "If everything moves along and there's no major catastrophe, we're headed toward holograms."

Despite the enthusiasm, however, it's far from settled what rights are needed to pull off hologram spectacles.

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