For those of you who have been eagerly awaiting ABBA’s reunion tour, unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait just a little bit longer. The band’s Björn Ulvaeus told ITV News yesterday that technical difficulties have pushed their plans into 2020, but he promises the highly-anticipated tour and some new songs will be coming. If this is the first you’ve heard of it, or if you just don’t care about ABBA, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with virtual reality. Well, a lot actually.
The plan is for the band to perform a concert on a motion capture stage. Then, in concert venues around the world, they will be projected as holograms, appearing as they did in the late-1970s. It will be their voices and their movements, but audiences will see digital holographic “ABBAtars” of much younger versions of Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Björn Ulvaeus when they were in their heyday, topping the pop charts with song after song.
Is it just vanity? Perhaps, but let he who not used a snapchat filter cast the first stone. In the Matrix, they called it “residual self-image.”
After all, this is what they looked like in the '70s.
And this is what they look like today.
On the one hand, it’s perfectly natural to age, and if Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Wood can still seek Satisfaction on the stage, why not ABBA?
On the other hand, if you can dance, and you can jive, having the time of your life, what difference does it really make anyway? If you can go to Madison Square Gardens and watch ABBA in 2020, looking like they did in the 1978, it’s bound to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Or is it?
Actually, no. We’re going to see a hell of a lot more of this. This will certainly be the biggest most ambitious holographic tour to date. But it’s just the beginning; it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The technology is born out of the same technology that gave Andy Serkis the ability to pour his heart and soul into his portrayal of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. But instead of Gollum, we get to see ABBAtars, who seem to performing live on stage. But they’re not. It was all prerecorded in a motion capture “volume.”
When Tupac Shakur suddenly appeared on stage with Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre at Coachella 2012, audiences were initially stunned. Wait a minute… Isn’t he dead?
Yep. The Rap legend was gunned down 15 years earlier in Las Vegas. But so long as we have sufficient photographs and videos of him, we can rebuild him digitally as a type of 3D avatar, and make him do things he never did, or sing songs he never even heard.
The technology behind it came from visual effects pioneers Digital Domain, known for their visual effects work on such films as Titanic, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Ready Player One. Over the years DD staff artists have won more than 100 major awards, including Academy Awards, Clios, BAFTA awards and Cannes Lions.
Digital Domain went on to create a concert for legendary Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng, who died in 1985.
This fall, concert goers can experience a unique experience with the “Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream Tour,” from BASE Hologram, which pairs a holographic Roy Orbison with a holographic Buddy Holly in concert. This follows a “solo” Orbison hologram outing that launched in 2018. Eric Schaeffer, who directed “In Dreams: Roy Orbison in Concert,” will return for the joint trek.
The Abba holograms are being done by Pulse Evolution, which was founded by a number of Digital Domain alumni who worked on the elaborate holograms for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” tour.
But here’s the thing, if they have the 3D dataset to create holograms, they have all the data they need for a VR experience. It’s kind of a no-brainer. In fact, that 3D dataset can be used print out little figurines with a 3D printer. It’s all about the dataset.
And this is just the beginning. Surely we have a enough photographs and videos of John Lennon and George Harrison to put The Beatles back together. Maybe we can stand on the Apple rooftop with them as they played their final live performance. But let's think a bit beyond concerts.
While 3DTV turned out to be a failure, visual effects companies and film post production houses learned how to interpolate 3D data from 2D stills and videos, which opens up the very real possibility of putting you on the beaches of Normandy, or landing you on the Moon with Neil Armstrong. You could wander around the Grassy Knoll, looking for clues or experience the invasion of Iraq, first hand.
The possibilities are endless, but of course, in the end it all comes down to the Money, Money, Money. And keep in mind Fernando, it's not a situation where The Winner Takes it All. (Ok, I'll stop now).