John Textor and the Evolution of the Digital Human

A few years ago it would have seemed unlikely to believe deceased musical performers could be brought to life again by digital technology so realistic that fans would hardly be able tell the difference between a projection and the real performer. But in 2012 that became a reality for Tupac fans at Coachella. The rapper came onstage posthumously for a completely original performance.

Fans could tell this was a digital rendition, but it was so life-like that everyone enjoyed the show. The internet and new media erupted that night and the next day. Stories were being posted and shared all around the world, calling the image a “hologram” of Tupac.

The people behind the magic said it wasn’t an actual hologram, but rather a somewhat simple illusion made from complicated technology. This illusion was achieved by hanging six high-end projectors from the ceiling above the stage. These were pointed toward a sheet of Mylar that hung above live dancers, and reflected the projects just right to achieve what appeared to be a 3D Tupac on stage. It’s a parlor trick that has been used in theater, magic, and haunted houses for hundreds of years, known as Pepper’s Ghost. But the technology to digitally create an entirely rendered, moving and believable human image from scratch is new.

Digital human faces and bodies have been used in Hollywood movies fairly commonly since George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, and somewhat minimally before. But the degree to which those characters seem convincing has changed dramatically.

Lucas may have brought the idea a little more popularity, but John Textor is the man responsible for making it so realistic, that when he helped to create a Michael Jackson hologram at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards, audience members started getting out of their seats to cheer for his effects.

Textor is the executive chairman for Pulse Evolution Corporation, a cutting-edge digital effects company specializing in applications of the human likeness. They are responsible for many of the computer generated effects in popular Hollywood movies, and they are now expanding the industry to include live performances from deceased musical artists. Textor has said Elvis Presley is their next show, but that they are receiving requests from many different estates, all asking for their beloved performers to be brought to life for another show, and even possibly entire tours.

Textor has also said that there are many applications for this technology and right now, the only thing limiting Pulse from expanding to more fields is market demand. This is still a new technology, and it is only starting to gain traction with fans outside of films. As the software becomes more accessible and easier to use, the world may start to see digital human likenesses appearing more commonly.

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