How Tupac Was Brought Back to Life at the Coachella Music Festival

Posted by Brendan Brehm on Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Tupac Hologram at Coachella Music Festival

Audience members at this year’s Coachella Music Festival were stunned when deceased rapper Tupac Shakur appeared alongside Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg to perform two songs before vanishing into thin air. In the aftermath of the festival, we’ve been reading a lot about the Tupac “hologram”; but as any reader of could tell you, that was no hologram rapping and dancing on stage. No, Tupac was not resurrected with lasers, but with one of the oldest tricks in the book: the Pepper’s Ghost illusion.

There seems to be much confusion among the media as to what exactly appeared on stage at Coachella, resulting in the misnomer “hologram” being tossed around. A hologram is a 3D image recorded and reconstructed with a laser beam. The image of Tupac at Coachella was in fact a 2D image projected onto a reflective surface in an updated version of Pepper’s Ghost.

You can see some clips of the performance featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live below, or check out the full performance here (we just wanted to give you a heads-up that there is some profanity in the full video).

While the Tupac projection was created by AV Concepts and its partner, Digital Domain Media Group (whose stock has shot through the roof since the performance), the underlying technology was developed by London-based Musion Systems Ltd. Just to make things confusing, they market their proprietary projection system as Musion Eyeliner 3D Holographic Projection, while in reality the system creates the illusion of a 3D image rather than a true holographic image.

The Musion Eyeliner system updates the reflective surface and the image source used in the original Pepper’s Ghost. Rather than employing glass as the main reflecting surface, a thin and very light-weight metalized film is placed along the front of the stage. As in the traditional Pepper’s Ghost stagings, the reflective film is installed at an angle of 45-degrees to the audience so that it will reflect any image placed below the audience. In earlier versions of this illusion, such as Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, the glass reflects actual objects in motion. In the case of the Musion Eyeliner system, the image to be reflected is supplied by an LED screen or high-powered projector. This is a bit like the version of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion in the “Ghosts of the Library” show at the Abraham Presidential Library and Museum.

Tupac Hologram at Coachella music festival

Image: Christopher Polk and Getty Images

Even with all the technology in place, AV Concepts still needed an original Tupac performance to project. This is where Digital Domain Media Group, an Oscar-winning CG house, comes into the picture. It was Digital Domain that created the animated Tupac based on old footage and a lot of input from Dr.Dre who spearheaded the whole project. Over the course of four months, Digital Domain pieced together a realistic Tupac, with Dr. Dre advising the design team on Tupac’s movements, mannerisms, and style. The result was a realistic, but ghostly-looking Tupac that performed two songs in perfect sync with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.

For now, Dr. Dre is claiming that the Tupac “hologram” was a one-time deal. In a video message released to dispel rumors about a tour featuring the hologram, Dr. Dre made it clear that “it was strictly for Coachella, get it right.” He does, however, leave things slightly open-ended when he goes on to say, “if a tour happens, we’ll see.”

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