Issue 25

Termination: Life on the Holodeck

Life on the Holodeck.


20 June 2012

Text:/ Graeme Hague

We’ve got high-definition 3D television and film, something that was unimaginable less than 10 years ago, and you’d think we should be happy. But Star Trek has a lot to answer for with its ‘Holodeck’ and weird, psychotic doctor who is, in fact, just a smarty-pants hologram spat out by the computer whenever someone gets a cosmic-sized headache. Hologram-envy is not a new phenomenon. Who can forget Luke Skywalker’s first experience of downloading soft pornography when R2D2 sputtered a mid-air hologram of Princess Leia pleading her case? (It’s slightly alarming that spell-check has no issue with that sentence.)

The demand for gob-smacking, can’t-tell-the-difference holograms is there and it should never come as a surprise anymore that we’re catching up with science fiction. This time, it’s the near flesh-and-blood holographic performance.

Back in April at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California the Digital Domain Media Group stunned 90,000 punters with a performance by Snoop Dogg and Tupac (or 2Pac… or TwoPac depending on what part of the ‘hood y’all live in) – a neat trick since Mr Pac has been dead since 1994. Yes the CGI footage was great, and the image was a Pepper’s ghost, once again being passed off on the public as a hologram, but the ensuing debate over the show suggests there’s a fine line between clever technology and doing something downright creepy.

If we ignore the slightly uncomfortable feeling, and any of those annoying morality issues, the potential for marketing products and services with holograms is enormous and shouldn’t be ignored. After all, dead famous people are tremendously successful promotional tools, if you measure it by the excellent–if unfortunate–impact dying had on their careers.

Here’s an example of what could be done: John F Kennedy promoting education, reading and literature by his hologram pointing upwards at the Dallas Book Depository and saying, “Hey, the President of the United States is in town and that guy in the library window is still studying his ass off. I’ll bet he gets his diploma!”. How about Mama Cass holding an enormous McBurger Burger and saying, “I couldn’t have choked on this! I’d have to chew it. Eat big and you eat safe!”

All right, that’s as tasteless as the sandwich that supposedly killed her (an urban myth apparently) and besides, there is a fatal flaw in the above hologram scenarios. These 3D images of performers who have passed onto the Great Gig in the Sky need existing footage to manipulate. But really, that shouldn’t be a problem since famous, dead people are famously dead because… well, they were famous. Which means that short of going all the way back to Genghis Khan’s performing elephant shows in the 12th century there’s bound to be archival footage you can use somewhere. This stuff pops up on YouTube every day.


At the moment, to create convincing holographic images you need lots of smoke, mirrors, lights, a large audience with a substance abuse problem and Snoop Dogg running around yelling rap lyrics nobody understands (even his Facebook posts are largely incomprehensible). In other words, you’re always going to know what’s coming.

No, the real problem with using holographic images will be in the near future when the technology is refined, cheap and readily available. Marketing companies will flock to the concept and iconic ghosts will be popping up everywhere unexpectedly, frightening the behooters out of us. Marilyn Monroe pouting at thin air and selling lipstick, George Best endlessly kicking a soccer ball (yes, yes, I know – a football) at startled shoppers in his new boots, Marilyn Manson snarling at terrified passers-by and flogging skincare products… hang on, he’s not dead. Or is he? Hard to tell – doesn’t matter. Still terrifying all the same.

And that’s the problem. Until now all our pseudo-3D wizardry has been safely on a screen where everyone knows what’s going on and nobody wets themselves (apart from that Jaws scene where the severed heads drops out of the bottom of the boat… to be fair I’d drunk a very large coke earlier). But holograms aren’t meant to appear on a wall, on a screen or even on a stage. The 3D environment is our space and time, walking among us like the living – it’s the ultimate illusion. Who is going to be responsible for the chaos it might cause? The terror it can induce? What about the elderly? What will happen when the next enraged woman runs over Sam Newman and her defense is, “Sorry, I thought he was a hologram”?

It’s all very tricky, but at least we can tell you the ultimate 3D illusion is already upon us–or soon will be. Yes, the next project for the Digital Domain Media Group will be a holographic performance by Elvis. The King will live again–unless you’re one of those folks who believe he’s still alive anyway. So Elvis fans will get a double-hit. They get to see the King in all his portly glory once more and yet again refuel all those conspiracy theories that Elvis isn’t dead.

Thanks Tupac – thanks a heap. Can’t wait.


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Issue 25