Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
What do Michael Jackson, Frank Zappa, Whitney Houston and Tupac all have in common? We’ve been able to pay tribute to these iconic performers through a series of “holographic resurrections.” These posthumous celebrity appearances have been mistakenly dubbed “holograms,” when in reality Tupac at Coachella, Michael Jackson at the Billboard Music Awards and Frank Zappa’s Hologram Tour, as well as dozens of other examples, are not holograms at all.
The ‘Hologram’ Landscape
These examples are iterations of Pepper’s Ghost, an illusion popularized in carnivals, museums and concerts since the mid-1800s by British scientist John Henry Pepper. Pepper’s Ghost, one of the roots for the “smoke and mirrors” technique, works by reflecting 2D images off a semi-transparent surface. Unlike true holograms, Pepper’s Ghost illusions don’t project objects that have depth and volume.
Another form of experiential technology is the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for live concerts. While still in their infancy in the U.S., AR and VR concerts are a popular trend in Asia. The U.S. is catching on, with prominent artists turning to virtual and augmented reality-based concerts.
The use of consumer AR and VR head-mounted displays can be quite immersive; however, limited resolution coupled with a narrow field of view and the inability of the eye to truly focus freely can detract from a realistic viewing experience. More importantly, they don’t create true holograms. While both AR and VR may sample from a holographic dataset coupled with motion tracking, the technology does not visually present a hologram to users who are still only seeing images on flat, 2D displays.
Near-Future Hologram Markets and Applications
While the faux “holograms” of Tupac and Michael Jackson are creative 2D illusions and VR applications, they simply aren’t by definition, holograms. However, they do reveal that we have reached a new era of how people are engaging and consuming content. Entertainers, marketers and brands need to consider new avenues to reach audiences in different, compelling ways.
As a marketer working with performers and global brands, I believe true holograms of real people and objects have the potential to alter the way content and media are consumed across limitless entertainment applications. Looking ahead, a concert or event could enable attendees to interact with real holographic celebrities as if they were on stage and performing in real life.
Whether a tribute to a musician from the past or giving attendees access to presenters in remote locations, holographic technology could extend the production and execution of live events to future-world scenarios previously limited to science fiction. Imagine “beaming” celebrities into multi-city events within a 3D environment representing a realistic photographic representation of a place with visual effect experiences that engage viewers in ways that mimic the real world.
There are several in-roads currently working to bring holograms to audiences everywhere. A true pioneer in the industry is Silicon Valley-based Light Field Lab team, which I’ve worked with for years, recently unveiled an impressive technology demonstration of SolidLight, a high-resolution holographic display platform making real holograms a reality by projecting 3D SolidLight objects that accurately move, refract and reflect in physical space.
A recent entrant into the 3D landscape in 2020 was the Looking Glass Portrait. The glasses-free autostereoscopic display is often dubbed “holographic,” when in reality, the technology doesn’t produce a true object in space or allow the eye to focus on an image like it would in the real world. Kaleida created Holonet, a high-tech metal gauze, which can be stretched into a translucent screen to project objects and 3D effects. The solution offers ease-of-installation and touring mobility for live events and essentially employs a 2D illusion technique similar to Pepper’s Ghost. MIT Researchers have even made progress toward true holographic experiences using AI to generate holograms via “tensor holography.”
Beyond the experience, holographic technology offers a unique opportunity to turn the business model for entertainment and music events upside down on multiple levels. This includes reducing travel costs, scheduling constraints and safety concerns as talent has the flexibility to join remotely. This technology can also enable new real-world campaigns and launch experiences that engage fans emotionally at levels that aren’t achievable with existing 2D display solutions.
Immersive experiences are not only emerging in the entertainment world but are also a growing trend in the advertising industry. From high-traffic city streets to stadiums and arenas, billboards are designed to catch consumers’ eyes to showcase new products and marketing campaigns. Brands are looking to transform marketing strategies into immersive experiences that better meet today’s cultural consumption needs. AR agency Rock Paper Reality states that both traditional out-of-home advertising and digital advertising “aim for the same goals to increase brand awareness, encourage customer loyalty, and, ultimately, increase sales.”
People are consumed by 2D digital displays, with the Covid-19 pandemic further spiking the amount of time spent on screens. In the race to win consumers’ attention, advertisers have entered a new era of innovation where recreating real objects and experiences is at the root of content creation. Imagine looking up in Times Square at a billboard where a larger-than-life sneaker comes to life in mid-air, showing every angle of the shoe while escaping the screen and merging with reality.
Holograms are opening the door for unique advertising displays that could change the future of marketing.