Tupac Lives!…Sort Of: Hologram of Tupac Shakur performs at Coachella Music Festival

Rising up from the sands of the California desert, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Annual Festival may appear to be a mirage, but festivalgoers know otherwise. Last year’s festival was so well-attended that this year the event was split between two April weekends with entirely identical lineups. Although the festival lineup was relatively light in hip-hop this year when compared to festivals like Pitchfork or Bonnaroo, the rap acts managed to steal almost all of the media attention, and for good reason.


A$AP Rocky’s set was a highlight of the festival, as he brought on Master P and his No Limit family onstage to perform Master P’s jam, “Make Em Say Uhh!”  The duo also dedicated Master P’s “I Miss My Homie” to Trayvon Martin, but hyped sets by both hip-hop royalty and breakout talent were far from over. During Childish Gambino’s performance on Saturday, A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown joined him onstage for a re-mastering of his older track, “You Know Me,” featuring a new verse by Gambino. The crowd went completely nuts. At Coachella this year, hip-hop was very much alive, although Nas may still disagree with that statement.


While sets by the likes of Death Grips, Araabmuzik, Azealia Banks and The Airplane Boys all garnered praise from critics, Sunday’s headlining act featuring Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre may become the single most-discussed musical performance of the whole year. Before the performance, the Internet was already abuzz over holographic projections of both Tupac Shakur and Nate Dogg – that were supposedly performing alongside the Sunday headliners – after inside sources at Coachella leaked the information. The hologram of recently-deceased rhyming legend Nate Dogg was unfortunately nowhere to be seen at the festival.  The greater tragedy was that Tupac only performed on two tracks: “Hail Mary” and “2 of Americaz Most Wanted.” The entire set lasted little over five minutes.


It comes as no surprise that the audience still went wild for the rest of Dre and Snoop’s performance, as they traded verses on many of their 90s classics as well as on tracks off their newer releases. Ironically, there has always been uncertainty surrounding the 1996 death of Tupac Shakur in Las Vegas and many question whether he may actually still be alive. Dre maintains that the hologram is strictly a one-off specifically for his performance at Coachella and denies any rumors that the hologram was built in preparation for an upcoming tour with the “ghost” of Tupac, going so far as to release a video online dedicated to his fans explaining the performance. However, he did entertain the possibility of beginning to tour again.


The technology that created this fascinating holographic spectacle was simultaneously simple and highly complex. The concept behind the projection relies on a trick used in Victorian theater referred to as “Pepper’s Ghost,” designed by John Henry Pepper. Dating back to the 1800s, the illusion is pulled off by reflecting light off an angled piece of glass from a concealed area below the theater’s stage to project the image of a ghost-like man. The technology used to create Coachella’s Tupac hologram this year was markedly more advanced, as it integrated design elements from a number of different special effects studios. The final product was essentially a combination of previously recorded concert footage and computer-generated imagery. James Cameron’s company, Digital Domain, which famously produced the retro-aging effects used on Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, designed the CGI component of the hologram.


The actual technology behind the projection onto the stage itself was conceptualized by AV Concepts, a studio with an impressive portfolio, including Madonna’s appearance as a cartoon at the 2005 Grammy Awards with Gorillaz and the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland in Anaheim. Patented by the British company Musion, Musion’s innovative Eyeliner 3D Holographic Projection was also incorporated into the performance by Tupac. While representatives from the special effects studios responsible for the hologram have declined to reveal the specific figures for the technology, pricing for similar holograms points to a total cost between $100,000 and $400,000, according to MTV. Although the projection supposedly took four months to produce, the relatively low cost for the opportunity to perform with a hologram could mean that America will soon see this awe-inspiring technology at concerts around the nation. Wicked Peach, I’m looking at you.