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Opinion: On-stage holograms are becoming big business

Installation Staff 7 August 2015
Opinion: On-stage holograms are becoming big business

Our columnist Rob Lane dwells on how stage holograms are becoming lucrative – and where there’s money, litigation may not be far away…

The news that Holo-Gauze was recently used as part of wonder.land, Damon Albarn’s musical reworking of Alice in Wonderland at the Manchester International Festival (the musical transfers to the National in London from 27 November) illustrates how holographic technologies and solutions continue to fascinate and entertain the general public.

A highly transparent, lightweight metallic gauze, Holo-Gauze is designed to be used with 3D polarised projection systems (using 3D polarised glasses) but can also be used to create lifelike 2D holograms – so ideal for on-stage effects or holographic versions of people. It has often been likened to Pepper’s Ghost, but it’s actually quite different, and has been showcased as a new technology on both Channel 4’s Gadget Man and Channel 5’s Gadget Show this year.

Other holographic systems for the stage are evolutions of the 400-year-old conjuring trick that had its heyday in Victorian times, utilising mirrors false rooms’ and manipulated viewing angles and lighting to create the illusion that something is appearing in a different space.

Pepper’s Ghost systems include London-based Musion’s MDH (Musion Das Hologram) technology, which – working with Hologram USA, which bought the rights to MDH in North America – brought Tupac Shakur back to life for the 2012 Coachella Music & Arts festival; and Digital Domain Group, which did a similar thing in the same year with a hologram of Elvis Presley. And at the Billboard Music Awards in 2014, Optimum Productions, Pulse Evolution and Tricycle Logic brought Michael Jackson to the stage.

It might be old tech then, but Pepper’s Ghost-style technology is very much alive and kicking. Indeed, Musion is more than happy to promote the relationship, stating that it “pioneered the evolution of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion… transforming it by utilising the latest HD technology.”

And recent acrimony in the States underlines just how much life there yet is in this Victorian favourite. Following attempts by Hologram USA owner Alki David to put a stop to the Michael Jackson Billboard appearance, claiming it infringed the patented tech he’d licensed from Musion, Pulse Evolution filed a $10m lawsuit against him for “falsely claimed credit” with regard to the visual effects used during the Billboard event.

Things are complicated further by the claims of both companies with regard to their relationships with Musion – a “defunct” (according to Pulse) company called Musion Das Hologram Ltd (or MDH Ltd) and another called Musion Systems Ltd that Pulse has supposedly been doing business with. Google both companies and they appear to lead to musion.com. However, a quick company check reveals that MDH Ltd has filed accounts up until 2015 and Musion Systems Ltd last filed accounts in 2011. Draw your own conclusions.

Want more complication? Alki David claims he outbid Digital Domain – owned by Pulse chairman John Textor – to acquire the rights to Musion’s MDH tech in 2014 and that he rejected proposals for a joint marketing agreement.

David is currently making the news with his invite-only showroom – a converted TV studio in Beverly Hills – which showcases holograms of Hollywood greats and where many of Hollywood’s biggest production studios are said to have been visiting scope out the potential for projects. Hologram USA is also set to bring back famous comedians from the dead at the soon-to-open national Comedy Centre in Jamestown.

Other Pepper’s Ghost-style solutions, as yet unaffected by lawsuits, include Artistry In Motion (AIM) Holographics Inc and VNTANA’s V-3 Hologram System.

Like Musion, AIM is happy to mention its Pepper’s Ghost lineage, calling its technology a ‘modern commercial version’ of ‘Pepper’s Ghost.’ A ‘thin metalised film’ is placed across the front of the stage at a 45-degree angle to the audience. Recessed below the screen is a bright image supplied by an LED screen or powerful projector.

But, Holo-Gauze aside, are there other stage-friendly solutions that don’t rely on Pepper’s Ghost? It certainly appears so. ARHT Media recently ‘Holo-Ported’ life coach Tony Robbins live on stage to Oz from Miami as a HumaGram for his latest Business Mastery event. Video footage of the event appears to show Robbins being projected (or ‘Holo-Ported’!) on to a transparent display that appears to function in a similar way to Holo-Gauze.

So, in terms of stage-event-based holograms it appears that if it’s not Pepper’s Ghost, it’s got to be some sort of projection system combined with a highly transparent display, such as Holo-Gauze. It remains to be seen how many of the more traditional Pepper’s Ghost-style solutions will be left operational if litigation steals the limelight…

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