Whitney Houston 'hologram' to tour next year

By Zoe Kleinman
Technology reporter, BBC News

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionWhitney Houston's image will be created using a patented formula based on an illusion called Pepper's ghost.

A 3D moving image of the late singer Whitney Houston is being developed by a US entertainment firm.

It is working with the Houston estate and hopes to tour the product in 2016.

Hologram US has patented a "high-tech version" of Pepper's Ghost, an illusion that dates back to the 16th century.

It can cost "millions of dollars" to develop an image of a deceased star. The company told the BBC that members of the public often enquire about being turned into a 3D moving image too.

"I'm not sure if any have pursued it... for most people the cost is forbidding," said head of marketing Owen Phillips.

The traditional Pepper's Ghost illusion involves foil and glass, to which Hologram USA has added a patented blend of computer generated images (CGI), moving parts and audio material.

In its stable of so-called "holograms" are classic acts such as Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra and Liberace.

'Stars with stories'

However boring celebrities need not apply.

"We look for stars with great stories," said Mr Phillips. "There needs to be a strong narrative around the shows."

The firm does also work with living subjects occasionally.

It was behind a projection of Julian Assange beamed into a US conference from his confinement in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and a performance by rapper Chief Keef beamed into a festival in Chicago where the artist is banned in person.

"For a live hologram, like for a chief executive to beam into a meeting, you just need a camera and a green screen," said Mr Phillips.

"It's expensive for the presentation process but there's no development expense."

However if the person is deceased the team needs access to a lot of past material.

"The participation of the estate is crucial - not only to do with their approval but also to provide access to material that may never have been seen before, perhaps because it may not be presentable from a quality standpoint on its own," Mr Phillips said.

The Houston family is supporting the digital reincarnation of the late singer.

Pat Houston, Whitney's sister and president of the her estate, said: "It's a great opportunity for her fans to see a reinvention of one the most celebrated female artists in history and to continue a legacy of performances that will not be forgotten in years to come.

"I look forward to the partnership."

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