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Hallwalls Science & Art Cabaret Looks at Holograms

The Real Thing

On Monday morning a video emerged online of rapper Snoop Dogg performing onstage next to Tupac Shakur at the Coachella Festival, which took place over the weekend in Indio, California. Shakur rose up through the floor of the stage, gave a shout-out to Snoop Dogg, then looked toward the crowd and said “What up, Coachella?” before performing “Hail Mary”—the rapper’s final single before his death.

Shakur was murdered in 1996, at the age of 25. The Shakur that mesmerized the crowd at Cochella, was not an imposter or a video image; it was a hologram. That’s right, a state-of-the-art, actual-sized, Princess Leia-like hologram. Reactions on Twitter to the performance have ranged from disbelief, to fear, excitement, and pure curiosity. “That Pac Hologram haunted me in my sleep,” tweeted QuestLove of the Roots, while singer Katy Perry said, “I think I might have cried when I saw Tupac.” One shocked Twitter user watching from home tweeted: “The holograms have arrived, I repeat, the holograms have arrived.”

Holography is not a new idea, of course: Jules Verne hinted at a similar concept in his 1893 novel Carpathian Castle; the Jetsons watched holographic televisions in the 1962 cartoon series; and George Lucas inserted a hologram of Princess Leia into R2D2 in Star Wars in 1977. What is new is that the technology to create a realistic-looking hologram now exists, and though the Shakur hologram was not the first time an actual hologram has been presented in the realm of entertainment, the demonstration at Coachella—aside from being impressive—has been the most far-reaching due to social networking.

On Wednesday, April 25, Hallwalls hosts the eighth installment of its Science & Art Cabaret series, and as luck would have it, the subject is holograms.

A hologram is a three-dimensional image formed by the interference of light beams from a laser. In 1947 a British scientist named Dennis Gabor developed a theory of holography but he wasn’t able to put his theory to the test because the laser beam hadn’t been invented yet. In 1960 the laser beam became a reality, and two years later, Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks of the University of Michigan used it to successfully put Gabor’s theory to the test.

The image of Shakur we saw walking around on stage and trading rap verses with Snoop Dogg was a little more complex than those intial efforts, explains Doug Borzynski, a facilitator of learning at the Buffalo Museum of Science. Borzynski will present his own holographic image at the Science & Art Cabaret.

“It was really a two-dimensional image, not exactly like Princess Leia’s ‘Help me, Obi Wan’ image,” Borzynski said.

A Mylar screen came down just before the performance began, which the audience probably couldn’t see, Borzynski explains. The hologram was projected down onto a piece of glass on the stage and then projected up onto this Mylar film.

“It was impressive to see it walking across the stage,” Borzynski said.

For his presentation at Hallwalls on Wednesday, he will build a small hologram of his own.

“I’ll take a little object, like a Lego spaceman, and then, instead of using sunlight like a normal picture would, I’ll use a red laser light,” he said.

The laser will deflect off of the object and also off of a photographic plate, creating a three-dimensional image of the object.

Though the process of taking a holographic photo might seem very foreign to most people, all that is needed is a kit that can be ordered on Amazon for around $100.

Of course, the image of Shakur performing onstage cost a little bit more than that.

“I imagine that the hologram at Coachella cost in the millions to make,” Borzynski said.

The cost to create such holograms will inevitably decrease as the technology progresses, stirring up a conversation about the seemingly endless possibilities that holograms could provide.

“Imagine an institution like mine, the Buffalo Museum of Science, where we have all of these collection pieces,” Borzynski said. “What if I was able to scan my rarest pieces with some kind of 3D scanner, and put that through a computer rendering system so that you could download the file? You could have a virtual museum anywhere you want.”

Borzynski will be joined at Hallwalls on Wednesday by three other presenters who will talk about subjects such as “The Death of Photography,” “Seeing the Sun from a Buffalo Backyard,” and general holographic principles. Admission is free.

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