Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Technique for Projecting Michael Jackson


Executive Chairman John Textor and CEO Frank Patterson of digital effects firm Pulse Evolution invited USA TODAY to its studios [former headquarters of George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic] in San Rafael, California to discuss the creation of the Michael Jackson illusion.

Hologram USA and Musion Das Hologram Ltd. sued Pulse Evolution and Jackson’s estate saying that their hologram products were being used without authorization and attempted to stop the Jackson performance at the Billboard Music Awards.

The Grand Illusion” illustrates how the performance was created with computer-generated images and live performers and a touch of the Pepper’s ghost illusion showing that it was definitely not holography.

Textor and Patterson state that the illusion was infinitely more complex to pull off than a hologram. Eight months of work went into making the Jackson spectacle.

Pulse first recorded the gilded backdrop and real dancers of Slave to the Rhythm in staggering 8K resolution (4K TVs are state of the art), using two $50,000 Red Dragon cameras. Next, a computer-generated Jackson circa 1991 (the period chosen by the Jackson estate) was subjected to an arduous animation process that was crucial to its success.

“You have to get across what’s called the ‘uncanny valley,’ which says the closer you get to making a digital human real, the creepier it gets,” says Patterson, adding that the illusion still lacked believability two weeks before the awards. “In the end, with all the intricate details in Michael’s face and gestures, we feel we got across.”

Come showtime, Pulse hung six high-powered projectors overhead and aimed the high-resolution footage of Jackson dancing and singing down at a piece of Mylar.

To the audience assembled at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, it looked as if a life-size Jackson was in front of them. The illusion was cemented by the presence of live dancers (foreground) and band (background).

“When the people who knew Michael best started crying at the show, we knew we’d done something. Then we started crying.”
John Textor, Pulse Evolution

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