Oh, what’s in a name?
Amy Winehouse’s hologram will be going on tour in 2019 along with a live band, according to Engadget. Proceeds from the tour will benefit the Amy Winehouse Foundation, which raises funds for substance abuse programs.
The beguiling powerhouse vocalist, who died in 2011, will get the Tupac Shakur Coachella treatment. That is, remastered images and vocals will appear in concert as an apparently three-dimensional projection.
There’s something slightly creepy or at least uncouth about “bringing back” a celebrity who passed away for our own enjoyment; a macabre tribute at best, or a disrespectful co-opting of another human’s likeness, without their consent, at worst. Who’s to say, but the age of hologram concerts has been here.
Amy Winehouse’s reappearance makes a splash because of the tragic circumstances of her life and death — made widely known in the award-winning 2015 documentary Amy — and the devotion she engenders thanks to her life story and remarkable talent. Raising funds for the artist’s foundation is a worthy use of hologram technology (but don’t think somebody isn’t making money off of this). And, what a chance for fans to hear that voice again.
There’s just one teensy thing.
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but the most widely used “holograms” as we understand them today aren’t actual 3D projections. Instead, they are 2D projections of a 3D image (like an Animoji or the Face ID image that unlocks your iPhone). These “holograms” use a reflection technique that’s been around since the 1800s called Pepper’s Ghost. Vimeo’s head of its Creative Labs, Casey Pugh, recently told me that the 3D video community gets a bit miffed when people refer to this long-standing illusion as a hologram. Because actual hologram technology is still very much in the works.
The company responsible for Winehouse’s projection, Base Hologram, says that the technique that it uses is different from the Tupac technology. It is a proprietary mix of “digital and laser imaging.” But Base CEO Brian Becker still acknowledges the distinction between the sci-fi understanding of holograms, and holograms as they exist today.
“No, no. This is a 3-D illusion,” Becker recently told CBS about another holographic tour. “‘Holographic technology’ or ‘hologram’ is just a good name that people recognize.”
That isn’t to say that this isn’t something special. The CEO of production for Base Hologram, Marty Tudor, told Mashable over email about how much goes into making this show compelling and special.
Without giving too much away, these tours are created utilizing cutting-edge techniques to be able to bring these projects to the stage. We start with a body double who works closely with our director to choreograph the performances and then we take the results of that and go to work on it digitally along with in many cases cleaned up and re-mastered cuts of the songs. The technology has evolved so the team can for the first time strip out the vocals and separate the tracks from both orchestra and other singers. From there it’s marrying that audio with digital and laser imaging, CGI techniques and spectacular showmanship.
So support, enjoy, love Amy Winehouse. But for the tech geeks among us, let’s just remember that true hologram technology is exciting, but still nascent.