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DT Debates: Is bringing the dead back to life as holograms awesome, or just wrong?

Tupac Hologram Coachella
Image used with permission by copyright holder

In the closing hours of the 2012 Coachella music festival last Sunday, rappers Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre did the impossible: they brought fellow hip-hop legend Tupac back to life… as a hologram. Videos of the stunning, high-tech reincarnation skyrocketed to viral status, and the show has become a controversial conversation centerpiece for, well, anyone with an Internet connection. 

In this latest edition of DT Debates, staff writer Molly McHugh and associate editor Nick Mokey battle it out over the ethics of bring the dead back into the temporal realm with the use of holographic technology.

Tupac Hologram Question
Image used with permission by copyright holder


Image used with permission by copyright holder

Holograms are right up there with flying cars and personal robots – things I was told I was going to have in the future. Of course, the second we get them, we have to first freak out over everything wrong with them instead of marvel at this incredible technology and its possibilities. How many sci-fi movies did you watch growing up where seeing someone was as easy as waiting for their projection? Too many not to think this is awesome, if you’re me.

I never got to see Tupac perform, and as a huge hip hop fan, that sucks. The opportunity to see the closest thing to it is amazing, and something I’d be both stunned and awed by.

When people first had the technology to layer old tracks from musicians who had passed onto current releases, audiences were probably shocked. They may have said it was tacky or wrong. So this isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened; it’s just adding a visual element to it. Now, no one bats an eye to these recordings. Natalie Cole recorded a duet with her father, the late Nat King Cole, and it was applauded. And music videos even feature artists that have passed away collaborating with the living performer – all thanks to technology.

This is the next leap: reimaging performers via holograms. Go ahead and scoff and cry at how “creepy” it is, and then in 10 years think about how silly you’ve been when you’re projecting your image to conference with me in my mansion and tell me how right I was.



nick mokey
Image used with permission by copyright holder

You won’t be hearing me complain that holograms are anything but badass, but let’s be clear about the technology: This isn’t Obi Wan Kenobi projected by R2D2. It’s a flat, 2D image projected on a sheet of mylar. The same trick has been making the rounds in venues like haunted houses since 1862, and the Gorillaz used it to appear on stage with Madonna in 2006. What’s new here is that we’re using it to resurrect a dead guy and make his corpse tap dance for money.

Tupac is dead. His body was cremated, rolled into a joint with some pot and smoked. True story. If you want to experience Tupac, listen to any of the six albums he produced before he died, or search YouTube for some of his live performances. The ones where a living, breathing Tupac stood on a stage, interacted with the crowd and other rappers, and put on a show. You might not be in the audience, but you’re experiencing the real creative talent of the guy as he once actually existed.

What we saw at Coachella was fabricated. Synthesized. Entirely fake. Sadder than a RealDoll.

Tupac never stood on stage and barked “What’s up Coachella?!” or bantered with Snoop and Dre. A team of computer graphics artists went through great pains to make it look like he did with the goal of making a lot of promoters a lot of money. If that’s not wrong, I don’t know what is.




This hologram wasn’t like other holograms we’ve seen before – it was better. The people behind it used better materials to make it more realistic. And the performance wasn’t old footage – it was all new. So again, this is new technology in motion we’re witnessing, and you won’t be able to convince me that isn’t cool.

To your point that it isn’t honoring Shakur, that’s probably too opinion-based to prove either way so it’s almost moot. But I’m sure there are plenty of fans out there like me who think it’s great how well everyone behind this were able to capture his mannerisms and movement and look. Now if they’d done a bad job, I’d be more apt to find it tacky – but they didn’t. This wasn’t some fly-by-night stunt that some guys at Coachella put together to get some hype a few weeks before the concert: the people at Digital Domain and AV Concepts have been working on this for months, using footage and recordings to piece together an incredibly realistic experience for a crowd that loves, but was never able to see, Tupac.

Can it replace the actual person? No. But is anyone out there actually stupid enough to think this is a viable way to replace dead performers… or dead people in general? No way. It’s simply an impressive new technology giving as a new, sensory way to experience a performance. And if you’re going to argue that the money made from this is lining the wrong pockets, if they are still using his voice and music then his estate will still benefit off the rights.




To your point that no one is stupid enough to think that this can replace live performers: apparently Dr. Dre is that person. He was the one who originally approached Digital Domain and AV Concepts with the idea of reincarnating Tupac, and (surprise, surprise) he’s not done making money off it yet. Dre and Snoop are considering “touring” with their bandaged-up buddy in the near future. Nothing says “desperate cash grab from an artist in the twilight of his career” like slapping your name all over a line of overpriced headphones, and touring with holograms, right?

Look, whether you’re twenty-something or sixty-something, we’ve all missed performances we would give our left arms to see. The Beatles at Candlestick Park in ’66. Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in ’69. Hell, for me personally, the Smashing Pumpkins at The Metro in 2000.

Recordings exist that allow us to experience these in a limited capacity and imagine what it must have been like to have been there, but recreating dead performers with holograms in front of a live audience indulges nostalgia in such a contrived, artificial way, it’s just sad. It’s the difference between remembering a lost loved one by watching old home videos of them… or using their clothes and hair vacuumed out of the carpet to build a photorealistic doll, propping it up at the dinner table, and having tea with it. The first is benign, the second is insane. Start charging other people money to money to have tea with your “reincarnated” friend, and I would call that disgusting.

Forgot about Dre? By the time Dre’s done driving his name into the ground by pimping out his dead friend, he should be so lucky.




Well with your analogy about stuffing a doll with vaccuum hair, I can see you’ve spiraled generously away from the actual issue. Again, Tupac’s estate — or any artists’ for that matter — will benefit from their music being used with their hologram at performances. So while Dre’s going to make money off the tickets he sells (that he sells to people that clearly agree with me, so if you truly think he’s going to make a substantial amount you must also believe I’m in the majority), so is Tupac’s family. Oh, and for the record, Tupac’s mother Afeni Shakur, gave the hologram and performance her blessing. If she’s okay with it, I think it’s safe to say you can lighten up. I mean, it’s clear you were a huge Tupac fan (is my sarcasm heavy enough?), but that should help you rest easier. If you want to accuse Tupac’s mom of stuffing a doll with vaccuum hair and charging guests to see him, be my guest. I don’t see it going well.

Oh, and to further assauge your money-grubbing fears, Dre made a sizable donation to the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation. He’s also worth approximately $260 million, so I’m not so certain he needs to pull a desperation cash move.

Once again, it can’t be ingored that concerts and performance moments have been tying in beyond-the-grave elements for years –montages with people who have passed on, duet recordings, videos intersplicing performances to look like they are happening at the same time. Again, no one complains — or they do and quickly get over it. But once it’s something that pops into the third dimension, we have to be freaked out by it or we’re soulless people. I’m just going to skip the forced guilt thing and go straight to appreciating the next step in performance technology. I’ll see you in five years when you’re done playing catch up.




Now that you’ve outed me for not being a Tupac fan (how could you tell?), I suppose it’s worth spelling out that I would have the same sympathy for anyone with the misfortune of dying young, only to have their likeness dredged up as a hologram and puppeteered for money. If anything, the fact that it’s Tupac probably muffled the uproar we would usually hear over something like this, since we’ve been conditioned to accept his post-mortem career over the course of half a dozen albums released after his death. I want to see Yoko Ono reanimate John Lennon to sing with Paul McCartney and see how that goes over. Bring back George and we can reunite the Beatles, whether they wanted to in life or not! I’m going to stake out a spot to be first in line for tickets.
I certainly won’t refute that you’re in the majority on this one, although I fail to see how that would make you right. And as for Dre’s sizable cash reserves, you don’t get $260 mil in the bank without stepping on a few heads on the way up the ladder. Or over a few bodies, as the case may be.
You were right about one thing: This is definitely the best “hologram” we’ve ever seen done, even if the same trick has made the rounds before. I tip my hat to the ace CGI artists who made it happen. But just because the technology exists to make a dead person seem realer than ever before doesn’t mean we should indulge ourselves. Life-like hologram, like-life doll, same difference. Regardless of the medium, pretending to interact with the deceased for fun, nostalgia – or money – is just kinda sad.

Check out the video below (Warning: Video contains strong language)

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