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How Orville Redenbacher plus Brad Pitt = Tupac

Digital Domain evolved digital creations from a creepy ad to Coachella.

(WARNING: Some NSFW language here.)

The Twittersphere has been buzzing for the past few days over the live performance by Tupac Shakur at the Coachella music festival over the weekend. The rapper, who was killed in 1996, performed two songs in hologram form, one with a very much alive Snoop Dogg. As with any stunning magic trick, the first and most obvious question is, “How did they do that?”

Bloomberg Businessweek spoke to Ed Ulbrich, chief creative officer at Digital Domain, one of the firms responsible for bringing the singer back to life. The show was the result of a four-month collaboration between Dr. Dre’s production company, Digital Domain, and two hologram-imaging firms, AV Concepts and Musion Systems.

“This is not based on archival footage,” Ulbrich says. “This is not him performing at some point. This a completely original, exclusive performance only for Coachella and that audience.”

The seeds of Tupac’s comeback were sown back in 2007, when a popcorn commercial debuted that both fascinated viewers … and really creeped them out. It was a spot by Crispin Porter & Bogusky for Orville Redenbacher that starred company’s founder and original pitchman. Thing is, Redenbacher died in 1995. 

The spot, quickly dubbed “Deadenbacher,” was actually directed by David Fincher and used by the director and his technology partners at Digital Domain to refine the process they would go on to use in the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, when Brad Pitt was made into a believable octogenarian.

At the time, Digital Domain chief creative officer Ed Ulbrich told Creativity, “In our business, doing a completely believable human being who delivers lines close up, is the holy grail. There is nothing more difficult that can be done in computer animation. We’ve done digital actors before, certainly—we’ve done them in stunts, and we’ve even done them in commercials. But they’ve never been in close up delivering lines. This is the first time it’s ever been attempted anywhere.”

A couple of years later, Ulbrich spoke at TED and explained the technology and evolution of how they created Benjamin Button.

While seeing Tupac onstage almost 16 years after he died is a bit weird, it’s come a long way since Deadenbacher. Just imagine what’s coming in the next five years. As Ulbrich told Businessweek, “Nothing is real and everything is possible.”