This year at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, located in California, those in attendance were treated to quite the surprise. Midway through a performance by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur appeared on stage. But here’s the thing: Tupac has been dead since 1996. The image, a hologram created by the company Digital Domain, stunned the audience. Who knew that an image so real could be conjured on stage in front of a crowd of thousands? Also, SINCE WHEN HAVE WE HAD HOLOGRAMS?
So what’s happening with holographic technology and when did this technology become available? And does this mean that all of those futuristic images we see in movies are out there somewhere that I’ve never seen? Well, not quite. For starters, the Tupac hologram was not technically a hologram. According to Dictionary.com, a hologram is a “three-dimensional image formed by the interference of light beams from a laser or other coherent light source,” which the Tupac image was not.
The Tupac image onstage was more of a modern take on an old-fashioned illusion, in which magicians would conjure “ghosts” by projecting images onto transparent materials. According to James Montgomery, a reported for MTV News, “There’s an overhead projector that sort of reflects down onto basically a tilted piece of glass that’s sort of on the stage floor. That then reflects the, well, reflection onto a mylar sort of screen, and it projects in this sort of 3-D kind of thing where it allows the other performers to sort of walk in front of Tupac and basically interact [with] him.”
But technicalities aside, the image of Tupac was amazing, impressive, incredibly realistic, and a huge step forward for holographic technology. People loved it, and are willing to pay to see it, and it would not be surprising to see “holograms” of other deceased stars begin to appear with increasing frequency. With the reaction the performance resulted in, and the potential earnings involved, companies are sure to invest in holographic technology in the coming years, and we are sure to see huge advancements from the technology currently available.
Although the image of Tupac was incredible, holograms such as that seen in Star Wars when R2D2 projects the image of Princess Leia are still far from being commonplace. Projecting an image onto a transparent surface, as was done on stage at Coachella, is significantly easier than projecting an image in open air, and that still cost Digital Domain more than it wanted to pay. Just about any “hologram” you see nowadays will involve reflection onto some surface, and it will be a long time before we see the free-floating holograms from Star Wars.