The King may have left the building, but a virtually resurrected Elvis Presley will soon return to a concert venue near you.
With estates of deceased musical acts exploring the revenue possibilities of virtual live performances, the visual effects company that created the Tupac Shakur "hologram" seen at this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is leading the charge. The company, Digital Domain Media Group, recently signed an exclusive deal with Core Media Group (formerly CKx) to jointly produce a series of "virtual" Elvis likenesses for various entertainment projects.
Digital Domain chairman/CEO John Textor says the virtual Elvis project will cost millions and is still in the early stages of development. Jack Soden, president/CEO of the Core Media division known as Elvis Presley Enterprises, sees massive potential for the Presley project. "We'll own these images," Soden says, adding that the concerts-which might range from traveling tours to residencies-would be unlike anything Elvis fans have previously witnessed.
"This is not repurposing old footage that the world has already seen," Digital Domain chief creative officer Ed Ulbrich says, referencing how the recent Tupac projection was also built from scratch. "We're making totally original and exclusive performances so that fans can have new experiences."
The estates for other artists including Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe have also been considering the idea of holographic live performances following the Tupac hologram's appearances with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg at Coachella in April.
Jeff Jampol, who manages the Doors as well as the estates of Morrison, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Peter Tosh and Rick James, hopes to eventually create a multimedia experience featuring the band. The show might take place in either a tent or a freestanding building, with the walls pixilated like a large TV screen and utilizing lasers, lights, high-quality sound, vibrations, projected imagery and the 3-D figures, he says.
"We're trying to get to a point where 3-D characters will walk around," Jampol says, noting that he's been exploring the idea for about eight years with British music video/commercial director Jake Nava. "Hopefully, 'Jim Morrison' will be able to walk right up to you, look you in the eye, sing right at you and then turn around and walk away."
Janie Hendrix, the rock legend's sister and Experience Hendrix president/CEO, has been working with London-based company Musion Systems for about a year to create a virtual version of her late brother. "For us, of course, it's about keeping Jimi authentically correct," she says. "There are no absolutes at this point."
Plans for a virtual Monroe concert is also in the works. The upcoming 50th anniversary of her death in August brought word of a "live" concert by the late sex symbol from a firm called Digicon Media. However, the company's rep told the Hollywood Reporter it isn't working with Monroe's estate since it already holds "certain copyrights" on the starlet's name and likeness.
Some concert promoters believe such virtual "live" performances from deceased acts could develop into a larger trend, but the concept would likely work best as cameos during a more contemporary show-much like Tupac's "guest spot" at Coachella-instead of prerecorded full-length concerts.
"There are plenty of opportunities to use it as an extra piece of entertainment," says Nederlander Concerts CEO Alex Hodges, who promotes concerts in California. "It has to be done creatively, and there are limitations to that before it wears people out."
Additional reporting by Gail Mitchell.