3D Avatars on Stage?

Last week, I stumbled across the phenomenon of Hatsune Miku, a teen-idol Japanese pop singer. One important attribute sets her apart from other performers; she is entirely computer generated. Not only is her anime-style person digitally drawn, her voice and dance moves are also synthesized from the musical score and lyrics. And perhaps most impressive of all, she performs in “live” concerts that draw thousands of glowstick-waving fans. One of the delightful ironies is that she is backed up on stage by a rock band made up of living, human musicians.

Miku is a computer-synthesized Japanese pop singer who performs

What caught my eye were the many references to her “holographic 3D” stage avatar that delivers these performances. I had my doubts about the accuracy of that description, so I dug in further. I did not reach a final conclusion, but I failed to find any evidence at all that the image is projected in 3D. Instead, it looks pretty clear that it simply is a 2D animated image projected onto a rear-projection screen that is stretched across the stage. Here’s one of her performances:

As you watch this video, you’ll see that there are times when the camera trucks left or right through the crowd. It’s hard to tell with the dance movements of the avatars, but it doesn’t look as though there are multiple views available. As you move across in front of the stage, the avatars still seem to be looking at you.

The performances are impressive, but not as impressive as they would be in 3D. The rendering required to create the additional views so that you could see the synths from the side while others see their fronts would be demanding, and the projection system would require more than just a simple rear projection screen. It’s still possible that this is 3D, but I’ll need more information before I’ll believe it. So at this point, I’m not ready to pick this as an exciting breakthrough in projection technology.