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How Will Elvis Presley Be Digitally Resurrected?
A 1957 photograph promoting the film Jailhouse Rock depicts singer Elvis Presley.
Credit: Public domain

Whether you believe Elvis Presley really died in 1977 or not, he will soon be digitally resurrected. A 3D virtual version of the king of rock 'n' roll will star in performances later this year, thanks to a combination of 19th and 21st century technology.

Holograms are still a far cry from appearing lifelike. So how will this technology work?

It's the same technique (from the same company) by which a 3D rendering of the late rapper Tupac was digitally inserted into a concert in April. First, CGI animators manipulate old footage of the deceased musicians to piece together new, virtual sequences of them performing. The 3D sequences are then projected onto the stage via a bit of Victorian era trickery called the "Pepper's ghost" optical illusion.

The audience views the stage through the red rectangle. The ghost illusion is created by a half-silvered mirror (outlined in green) situated between viewer and scene, which reflects a mirror-image hidden room (left).
The audience views the stage through the red rectangle. The ghost illusion is created by a half-silvered mirror (outlined in green) situated between viewer and scene, which reflects a mirror-image hidden room (left).
Credit: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Wapcaplet

The Pepper's ghost effect, popularized by John Henry Pepper in London in the 1860s, was used to create an illusion of a ghostly presence on the stage during a theatrical production. In theater, it works like this: The actor who is to appear ghostly stands out of view of the audience, in a darkened room adjacent to the stage. A half-silvered plate of glass (or "two-way mirror") is placed at a 45 degree angle across the stage.

Suddenly, when the hidden room is illuminated, the actor's image reflects off the angled glass, beaming both outward toward the audience, and inward toward the stage. This makes the actor's translucent image appear to originate on stage.

A production company called The Digital Domain Media Group has adapted this clever technology for the modern age, projecting illusory images originating from computer-generated animations rather than hidden actors. According to Reuters, the company plans to create multiple virtual Elvis likenesses for use in TV and online media and during live shows, in partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises, which manages the late singer's brand.

Virtual hip gyrations coming soon.

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