A couple of months ago I upgraded my cell phone to an “Android” device. My motivation for choosing the particular model that I did was solely for its name, ‘Optimus’, which for me is a reference to Transformers leader, Optimus Prime. I don’t really use the blue-tooth capabilities but the way people walk around with that bug in their ear reminds me of the technology portrayed in the old school Star Trek episodes. If those little things that go in your ear went on your chest instead, it would be just like a communicator used by the crew. In fact, the technology of my phone is better than that of Captain Kirk’s outdated flip-phone, especially if I were to duct tape a Tazer to my cellular device. In this age of technology, life is imitating art more and more and what we once thought could only exist in worlds of Science Fiction is rapidly becoming a reality that we take for granted. Some of you may scoff at this notion and point out that there are no flying cars, faster-than-light travel, or hover boards, but people are working on it. What we do have is cars that parallel park themselves, bionic limbs, and, as we have seen recently, holographic technology that would put R2D2 to shame.
The “world’s first 3D performance” occurred way back in 2005 at the MTV Europe Music Awards when the Gorillaz, a band that traditionally perform as silhouettes on a giant screen combined with images of their cartoon alter egos, were able to perform in full holographic wonder thanks to the “Eyeliner” projection system. The Eyeliner is a high definition 3D holographic video projection system, which allows moving, life-size holographic images to appear within a live stage setting. Most of us can picture that grainy image of Princess Leah begging Obi Wan for his help in the fight against the Empire from the original Star Wars movie. The holograph being projected from R2’s dusty circuits looked similar to a signal being picked up by a cathode ray television with rabbit ears. The images projected by the Eyeliner, on the other hand, make me wonder how soon holodecks could become the next amusement parks.
This clip from 2009 is a mind-blowing example of the possibilities and current capabilities of holographic technology. In this video, director Chris Cairns uses holographic projection to create a live performance based on his original Neurosonics Audiomedical Labs film, which starred disembodied rapping heads and the talents of DJ crew Scratch Perverts. For this revised demonstration video, Cairns utilizes the gifts of drummer, Will Clark and turntablist/DJ/producer, JFB out of Brighton, UK. As a 2007 DMC DJ Champion, JFB has made a name for himself across Europe for his abilities as a beat juggler. The holographic heads in the clip are projections of London‘s Beardyman, a 2006 & 2007 UK Beatbox Champion whom the BBC has dubbed as the “King of Sound and Ruler of Beats“. Beardyman is widely celebrated for his beatboxing skills coupled with his use of live looping technology. The beatbox master and JFB had collaborated together previously through the innovative Battlejam club nights that they hosted together, where live looping technology is augmented with live audience sampling to create instant hooks and spontaneously composed tracks. The actual holographs, of course, were courtesy of the Eyeliner, which was invented by Uwe Maass and is exclusively licensed through Musion Systems Limited, an intellectual property licensing company. The technology is based on a theatrical illusion from the 1860’s known as Pepper’s Ghost, that uses a plate of glass in combination with special lighting techniques. One of the most famous uses of this technology is in the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney Land. Musion Eyeliner replaces the plate glass with a specially developed foil that is placed across the front of a stage at a 45 degree angle, facing the audience. Recessed above or below the screen are high definition video projectors, making it possible to produce virtual holographic images of “variable sizes and incredible clarity” that are “infinitely configurable“. Although the video is said to showcase exactly what the audience in attendance was exposed to, Clark and JFB were, apparently, unable to see the Bearyman heads while they were performing. The following quote, via a post on Wired.UK.com. further explains some of the technical logistics of the video :
“…the foil is stretched over where the instruments are, with projectors aimed down from above creating the heads. The instruments are linked to a computer hooked up to the projector, though, so when they’re manipulated, the image changes. That’s how the heads are able to spin at the same speed as the turntables and react to drum hits.”
Musion Eyeliner is being employed more and more since its introduction in 2005. Japanese band Genki Rockets – whose lead singer, Lumi, is a fictitious character- use Eyeliner for all of their “live” appearances. Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds was a concept album released in 1978, but has spawned a 30th anniversary live tour. As a substitute for actor, Richard Burton , who portrayed the journalist/protagonist on the original album, Eyeliner is used to project an image of the now deceased performer during the live show. German pop/rock band Tokio Hotel even performed an entire tour as a holographic band in 2010! Apparently thousands of people were in attendance for their shows, but I don’t know if I would be impressed by that or if I would just feel like I got ripped off.
The technology has many other applications, as well, and is being used more frequently by companies and organizations to promote product launches such as Toyota’s Auris and the Samsung Corby, host global seminars like 2009’s Live Earth Conference -which featured holographic key-note speakers like Al Gore- or put on ceremonies like the British Fashion Awards. In 2010, animation company, Square Zero re-produced a rendition of “Pennies From Heaven” by departed crooner Frank Sinatra, for former American Idol judge, Simon Cowell’s 50th birthday celebration, as well as a speech by dead author/former-creative director of global advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, Paul Arden, at Cannes Lions advertising festival.
Plan on seeing holographs at your local malls, airports, and information counters soon, because Musion announced the launch of EyeSay, a “virtual assistant” in February 2011. It is basically a cheaper version of Eyeliner and is already being beta-tested at Manchester Airport in the UK as part of their “passenger security preparations“. The Musion website describes it as ‘
“…a clever holographic projection setup for the public environment: designed to work in high ambient light. The EyeSay is compact, stationary and ideal for airports, retail outlets, point-of-sale, exhibitions, shopping malls and road shows.”
My half-joking predictions about a genuine inter-active holodeck ala Star Trek: The Next Generation may not be too far off actually. After doing a little research into the Eyeliner and Musion Systems, I found this quote from the web-site to be most interesting:
“Musion Systems partners with other company’s technologies to enhance the audience experience. Eyeliner works well with interactive touch-screen user interfaces, motion tracking, augmented reality (AR), customer product configurations and web-based content“
It looks like they are already working on it…