Can Good Come From Celebrity Resurrection Through Technology?

Since we first saw Princess Leia appear in a hologram projected from R2-D2’s projector – if not before – we’ve been waiting for holographic projections to come into their own.  In some ways, they have been around and put to use.  One that has been around is the ghostly figure saying goodbye as you leave any of the Disney Parks’ Haunted Mansion rides. But, there was the need for even more than that simple loop. I had heard Peter Guber talk about his experience at Sony’s corporate headquarters in Japan – where he had an interaction with a holograph without realizing it. So, fuller-functioning hologram’s been nearing reality for a while. Tupac Shakur’s performance in death at Coachella may have been the coming out party for hologram technology, but is it what we really wanted?

Courtesy of AV Concepts

In my blog from a few days ago, I mentioned the appearance of Tupac during Dre and Snoop’s set to close during the Coachella music festival. I mentioned that his holographic representation was cool, but also somewhat freaky.  Perhaps the better sentiment was macabre. MTV.com captures the essence of the performance and brings up questions about future iterations of this technology in the concert realm.  I think they were right in saying that it might work in short spurts – and in the right context – but it’s not something that could deliver in a longer format. The novelty can definitely wear thin after the first few moments of wonder. A lot of the factors of acceptance will rely on who the performer is and how they are represented.

The bigger issue is whether we, or their families, are comfortable with the representation holograms provide.  Beyond the fact that they are obviously not real, there can be discomfort in the “actions” they take.  The celebrities’ families are usually the ones who have control over whether their likeness is used.  If you look at one of the things I was most impressed with regarding the Tupac “performance,” the sound design was great.  Its easier to take recordings of past performances, but Coachella didn’t even exist when Tupac was killed in 1996. But, he started his performance by yelling out. “What the (expletive) is up, Coachella?!” The utterance of Coachella and many other utterances throughout were uncanny.

What happens when deceased celebrities start saying things they would have never said in real life? There are enough issues with celebrity endorsements (direct or implied) among those who are living.  I can only imagine the murky water we can get into by giving others control – even if it is the deceased’ loved ones who are making the decisions.

There was a seeming run on deceased celebrities endorsing products in the last decade of the 20th century – Fred Astaire dancing with a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner, Louis Armstrong, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant Groucho Marx and Gene Kelly for Diet Coke, and John Wayne stumping for Coors Light. There was some backlash about those and they haven’t been seen much since the turn of the century.  Perhaps it was because they lost the wow factor.  Or, maybe it was because families and brands recognized it was certainly not a genuine endorsement. This newly  realized hologram technology can cause a run on some uncomfortable endorsements.

There is certainly much to laud companies like Digital Domain and AV Concepts(who pulled this execution off) as it can lead to some truly engaging experiences in the future. Maybe the best use of the technology – when related to celebrities or other famous people – will be for historical or educational purposes. Going back to the Disney park sphere, the comparison to the Hall Of Presidents in their Florida park would be most relevant.  When it first came out, the animatronics were captivating, but it was just a matter of time within the show that it became old.  Holograms would take it to the next level, but how long would the still-lifeless characters maintain our attention?

As entertainers, content providers and marketers, we just really need to be smart about how we use the technology so it doesn’t enter the realm of 3D films – where most instances are a waste.  We definitely don’t want any depiction to turn people off to the celebrities or brands they might represent or “endorse.”

There may be some other great opportunities for holograms in the future for communication – like Leia did in STAR WARS. We just have to be judicious when using the technology as a resurrection tool for the celebrities we love.

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