A synthetic (or digital) Michael Jackson performs at the Billboard Music Awards.Eyes popped at the staggering $500, 000 cost to produce Michael Jackson's nearly 14-minute-long "Thriller" video in 1983. Fast forward to today, and a nearly 4-minute-long hologram performance at the recent Billboard Music Awards by a now-deceased Jackson cost "multiple millions" to make, according to Frank Patterson, the chief executive of Pulse, the company that produced the show. Patterson said in a phone interview that he was still ringing up the cash register and had not yet finalized the tab.
The Jackson estate, he said, had asked Pulse to do the job. Six months later, and after countless hours of coding and "reviewing thousands of videos of Michael's work, " the King of Pop was brought back to life.
Simulating Jackson's moonwalking was nothing compared to making the hair look right. "Getting the hair to act and look like Michael's hair was a feat, " Patterson said. Using custom coding and animation programs like Maya and Nuke, Patterson said that Pulse remade Jackson countless times.
"We had what we thought was perfect motion and animation, but it didn't feel like Michael Jackson, " he said. So the company tried "instilling humanity into the visual object, " he said. Along the way, "It started giving us chills."
Even so, the May 18 show in Las Vegas almost didn't happen because Hologram USA and Musion Das Hologram tried to block the resurrection of Jackson.
Days before the Billboard Music Awards, a Nevada federal judge put the brakes on an emergency injunction demand from Hologram USA and Musion Das Hologram, who claimed that the projection technology used to produce Jackson would infringe their optical projection methodology.
US District Judge Kent Dawson, however, ruled that Hologram USA and Musion could not immediately prove that their technology would be breached when the deceased Jackson belts his posthumously produced new tune "Slave to the Rhythm."
That the show went on brings with it new worries for celebrities. To be sure, where to dine and vacation are among the stars' usual concerns. But Pulse executive chairman John Textor said that the time has come for celebrities to increase the vanity volume to 11 and begin mulling over their "synthetic" or "digital" image, as he described it. "We think living celebrities should be concerned now about controlling their digital likeness, " Textor said in a telephone call.