Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tupac's Ghost

This past weekend the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California took place.  For those of you who don't know, Coachella is an annual arts and music festival that a lot of annoying celebrities attend dressed like faux-hippies and watch a handful of good bands and singers for a few days.  This year featured a performance by Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur.  Yes, the Tupac that was murdered on the Las Vegas strip fifteen years ago.

It may come to a big surprise to some of you but I am a huge fan of '90's hip-hop and rap music.  Mostly the Gangsta Rap sub-genre where everyone wanted to kill everyone else and got in to fights about it on MTV.  My sister and I, who were in our mid-and-early-teens, respectively, in the late '90's, used to drive around our very white very safe town blasting some of the most violent, misogynistic rap music you could listen to in my sis's 1992 Ford Probe.  Who'd a thunk we both would have turned in to raging femanists mothers who wouldn't touch modern day rap music with a ten foot pole ('cept for the occasionally Nicki Manaj song) We both loved Tupac.  Not only because he was a talented rapper but because he seemed to really have something to say about the culture and climate he was living in. And he said the F word a lot.

When I heard Tupac was going to appear at Coachella as a hologram I thought it sounded incredibly cheesy and cheap and seemed like an obvious ploy to cash in on something.  I also thought it was a bit unfair to those performing Hologram Tupac was going to appear with, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, etc.  Curiosity and my sister posting on my Facebook page, "OMG you have to watch this" made me watch the Tupac performance, and since yesterday afternoon I've been a little  obsessed.  Not only because Two Of Americaz Most Wanted was performed, one of our favorite songs to gleefully rap along to (and yes. it is spelled with a Z) but because it was an amazing feat of technology, olde-timey magic and a bit of the paranormal.

Please, I implore you to watch this, even if you are not a rap fan, it is really a something to see (NSFW, lots of swears and n-words and whatnot.)  Watch it with the sound off if you must, but please take the time to watch it.  Or just FF to the 2:45 mark and listen to one of the most fun rap songs of all time.  

Okay, I am going to assume that you all watched it for the first time here or have seen it already.  Let's discuss, shall we?!

At first when I saw this I felt it was a bit on the ghoulish side.  The man has been dead for fifteen years, for Pete's sake, let him rest.  But, the longer I watched it the more amazed I became.  After all, it must have been a trip for Snoop to perform with his deceased friend on stage again (and I do feel a lot better about enjoying it now that Tupac's mother has spoken out about it and said she thought it was "amazing.")  and could you imagine seeing that live, especially if you had no idea it was going to happen?  But the question I kept asking myself was how was that achieved?  It was referred to online as a "hologram" but it is something different.  From what I understand, projected like Princess Leia out of R2D2.  This was more than that.  The way Tupac moved so fluidly around the stage and synced up his moves with Snoop (well, more like Snoop synced up his moves with him, obvs.)  I also appreciated that the Uncanny Valley wasn't terrible uncanny.  Yes, it is obvious who it was, with the outrageous abs and Thug Life tattoo, but the face was obscured enough by the microphone that it wasn't like looking in to his face.  To me, he looked like a ghost.  I had to know how this was done, so today, I did a little research.

Turns out, Tupac was more of a ghost than a hologram.  Pepper's ghost to be exact.  Pepper's ghost was a technique perfected by John Pepper in London in the 1830's.  Here is the definition of the technique from Wikipedia:

In order for the illusion to work, the viewer must be able to see into the main room, but not into the hidden room. The edge of the glass may be hidden by a cleverly designed pattern in the floor.
The hidden room may be an identical mirror-image of the main room, so that its reflected image matches the main room's; this approach is useful in making objects seem to appear or disappear. This effect can also be used to make an actor reflected in the mirror appear to turn into an actor behind the mirror (or vice versa). This is the principle behind the Girl-to-Gorilla trick found in many haunted houses and in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever.
The hidden room may instead be painted black, with only light-coloured objects in it. When light is cast on the room, only the objects reflect the light and appear in the glass, making them seem as ghostly images superimposed in the visible room. The reflections in the glass, which is vertical rather than angled, create the appearance of three-dimensional, translucent ghosts. In the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland/Disney World, this is used to make "ghosts" appear to be dancing through the ballroom, seeming to interact with props in the physical ballroom, disappearing when the lights on the animatronics are turned off.

Tupac's appearance wasn't strictly the use of the Pepper's ghost technique, there was also some super expensive CGI mixed in there with it (according to Gizmodo, Tupac's appearance cost anywhere from 100,00 dollars to 400,000 dollars.  Worth it!)  But the best part of the whole thing is the use of this old magician's trick.  It goes to show that with all the endless budgets and robot aliens flying to Earth and ships sinking and all the great computer technology money can by, an old magician's trick from the 19th century is still being used in 2012 on a grand scale, and that people (namely me) are taking the time to learn about it.  

Aside from the techniques and tricks, I think the fact that the idea of having Tupac come back in this form not only shows the desire his friends and fellow rappers have to still perform with him and have him around, but that, somehow, this embraces the idea of a spirit coming back to Earth.  We all know it wasn't Tupac's actual ghost.  We know how it was done and how much money was thrown behind it, but I like to think the idea was to show that those who have passed do live on and do come back to visit us and hey, wouldn't it be cool if this really was a ghost, as silly as that may sound.  

I also learned today that this is the same technology used at the Haunted Mansion at DisneyWorld, so see?  The ghostly effect wasn't accidental, I like to think.  I guess the point I am trying to (poorly) get across is I don't think this was done to showcase any sort of futuristic, hologram-y Will.i.am on CNN, Jetson's, Star Wars crap.  I like to think whoever was behind this wanted it to seem that Tupac's ghost was at Coachella rapping along side his old buddy Snoop Dogg.  

I have seriously watched the clip of this like four times while I have been writing this blog tonight. "Get ready for the throwdown, shit's about to go down!"  

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