Amy Winehouse was nothing if not a controversial figure. Although a Grammy Award winning musician, her struggle with addiction was well known, ending with her untimely passing in July 2011. But it was recently announced that she would be going on tour. Or at least, a projected holographic image of her would be. Base Entertainment, a Las Vegas based company, announced that they will be taking her digital image around North America for a series of “live” shows.
Not everyone is impressed, with cries of exploitation being heard everywhere across social media networks. “Let her rest in peace,” seems to be the most common sentiment, which is probably a stance that many can get behind. However, upon learning that Mitch Winehouse, Amy’s father, is working closely with Base Entertainment to ensure that her image is done justice, and that proceeds from the tour are going straight to the Amy Winehouse foundation, many soften to the idea.
However, this is not the first time a projected image of a celebrity has been used for entertainment purposes, and probably won’t be the last. Are hologram celebrities just a low-tech, passing fad, or could they be a real entertainment possibility for the future?
Holograms? Not Really.
The first major misconception about the so-called hologram technology used is that it is, in fact, a hologram at all. The term hologram tends to conjure up images of science fiction movies in which semi-transparent, ghost-like light images of humans are created, suspended in mid-air. This is not at all the technology used in bringing deceased celebrities to the stage. Instead, the whole concept is made much less impressive when learning that the so-called holograms are in fact simply projections onto transparent surfaces.
So these holograms are really about as impressive as the digital recreations of casinos in online casino games. However, such online casinos are impressive in their own right for entirely different reasons, the only difference is that they don’t claim to be “holograms”!
Six years back a similar projection was used of Tupac Shakur at Coachella, in which the deceased celebrity “performed” alongside Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. The special effect was widely praised at the time, despite the fact that the company responsible went bankrupt just three months after. The fact to keep in mind though is that the same technology was used 150 years ago, and has not evolved since, almost to any extent. Only minor changes have been made to the same trick used back in the day, with the biggest development being the addition of HD projectors.
Hence, calling this simple trick of the light a hologram seems to be nothing more than an attempt to rebrand a light refraction trick that has been around so long as to be mundane. The trick is still used in the Disney Haunted Mansion ride, and has been for decades, which just about says it all.
It is also not just that the light show is low-tech that is causing major controversy. It turns out that using the projected images of deceased celebrities is a legal war zone, which is to be expected given the extremely grey areas in which such matters fall. Hologram USA, one of two companies in the United States that aim to move forward with light projection shows, pushed for a Whitney Houston tour in 2016. But they were shut down, under strong protest from Houston’s family. This resulted in, rather horrifyingly, a breach of contract lawsuit being filed against the Houston family. Since the image of Whitney Houston is owned, refusing to allow her to be projected as a light image on a stage is, according to law, a breach of contract.
Pulse Evolution is the other company of this sort in the United States that owns the right to make light projected recreations for a number of iconic celebrities. These include Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, which more or less declare that we will soon be seeing “hologram” tours of these celebrities in the near future.
Exploitation Or Entertainment?
It can be argued that the image of Elvis Presley, for example, has been used far and wide since his tragic death. He is still one of the most impersonated celebrities is Las Vegas, with dressing up in classic Presley outfits being all but a favourite pastime. So why should it be controversial to use his image in digital light displays on stage?
Celebrities agree to have their images owned by companies, which is part of virtually any standard entertainment contract. If a company owns a celebrities image, is it not fair to say that that image can be used, as the owners see fit?
It is a complicated topic with multiple angles, but one thing seems all but certain; Elvis will return to the stage, as will Marilyn Monroe and Amy Winehouse.