Tupac hologram leads trend of digital resurrections

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LOS ANGELES — When Tupac Shakur rose from the stage in the California desert earlier this year, it was not only a jaw-dropping resurrection, but also the beginning of a new form of live entertainment.

“Come with me,” the digital Shakur called out, not just to tens of thousands of screaming fans but seemingly to other artists.

Follow, they will. Elvis Presley’s estate announced it has authorized holograms of the King of Rock, Marilyn Monroe’s estate has expressed interest and there’s no shortage of other beloved stars whose fans would die to see them perform again.

Advances in digital artistry make it all possible, presenting celebrity estates with new commercial and creative opportunities, but also some ethical quandaries.

“I think we’ve scratched the surface with Tupac,” said Dylan Brown, a filmmaker who along with director Philip Atwell and effects studio Digital Domain helped bring the Shakur hologram to life. “If it’s done tastefully, like Tupac was done tastefully, I think it could be a wonderful form of entertainment.”

Brown, the owner of The Yard Entertainment, and Atwell, the owner of Geronimo Films, had each toyed with the idea of using holograms in concerts for a decade, but the technology wasn’t there. Brown, who works closely with Snoop Dogg and Atwell, who collaborates with Dr. Dre, knew that once they chose Shakur for the holographic debut, it had to be more than just a technological marvel.

“We wanted to be really respectful of the family foremost,” said Atwell. “We just wanted to do something that wasn’t in bad taste.”

Reaction to the Shakur hologram was huge, with the performance garnering 15 million YouTube hits within 48 hours and winning a top award at the creative marketing gathering Cannes Lions.

Stars wield extensive control over how their names, voices and images are used after they die through likeness, trademark and copyright protections, and now holograms offer them yet another consideration.

Before digital filmmaking, attorney Laura Zwicker said, the question for her clients boiled down to “Could you use my photograph?” Now, they have to consider whether they’ll be returned to the big screen, inserted in commercials or put back on stage, said Zwicker a strategic wealth planner in the Los Angeles office of the firm Greenberg Glusker.

Brown and Atwell are proud that Shakur is leading the hologram revolution.

“We’re part of the hip-hop generation,” Brown said. “There was a time, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, when people were waiting for hip-hop to disappear. Now not only is hip-hop here to stay, even if you die we’ll bring you back.”


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