First Look: V Squared Labs, Renato Russo, Holograms and Optical Projections

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Renato Russo with mic

Vello Virkhaus, CEO and founder of V Squared Labs is sort of a Dr. Frankenstein. No, he doesn’t revive the dead amidst a lightning storm, but he is the Chief Scientist and CEO of V Squared Labs, which can bring performers who have passed on “back to life.”  The company is a creative collective of VJ’s, animators, designers, producers, programmers and architects, with the mission statement of “Experience Visuals.” They provide innovative experiential solutions for a wide range of clients — from festivals to interactive brand activations — with the goal being to provide turnkey solution for clients from conception through final delivery.  “Bringing visuals to life in a unique and original way through cutting edge technology is our approach,” says Virkhaus, adding that they push the boundaries of what is possible in content creation, design, interactivity, exhibition and lighting.

So let’s find out more.

What can you tell us about the techniques being used to create the effect of a performer — who’s no longer living — moving around on stage in real-time amidst other living performers?

Vello VirkhausVello Virkhaus
The “Peppers Ghost” illusion technique requires preplanned choreography for the live talent on stage.  The plastic film used needs to span the full movement of the projected talent and/or elements.  It is important not to forget that anything can be used in this format.  The technique can be used to create magical environments and overlays to on stage talent.  The technology requires a pit to be built into the stage, so it is vital that on-stage talent not accidentally misstep and fall in.  They also need to be hyper aware of the plastic film being used at is pulled so tight, that the slightest abrasion could cause the whole screen to tear and unravel in seconds. Resetting at that point for a live event would be impossible, so drilling your talent to be hyper aware is crucial.

In the recent Brazilian event with Renato Russo, the singer “interacted” with live performers on stage. Can you describe how that was accomplished?

Vello Virkhaus
The Renato Russo hologram was activated in front of 50,000 people at Brasilia Stadium.  The majority of the audience was out in the general admission area in front of the stage.  The closest audience members were roughly 50’ away due to an orchestra being in between them and our hologram of Renato upstage.  Those in the center of the audience facing the stage had the best vantage point and got the full augmented reality of the “Peppers Ghost” illusion.  From where they were standing they could not see the pit, hanging projectors or projection screen in the pit. The plastic musion eyeliner screen that the hologram was reflected onto was invisible to the audience due to the 45 degree angle it is hung at.  The image of Renato was exactly the same height as the original artist.  Other talent had the ability to stand near him as if playing off him and they matched perfectly in size, as if they were really playing with Renato.  We designed the stage with people in the seats in mind as well, so those with a higher seat elevation were still not able to see the pit and the reveal of how the illusion was executed on the night.

Renato Russo projection
Please go into the motion capture and digital mapping techniques that were employed.

Vello Virkhaus
A  lookalike dancer was used to capture the performance.  To recreate the face, prosthetics and an effects software called Smoke was used. We were able to further reconfigure our talent’s face, frame by frame, to literally turn him into Renato.  We spent months working with Renato’s son to perfect the look and did not stop tweaking until he and all of Renato’s friends were absolutely satisfied.

We saw this as a calculated approach to finish with a more realistic end result.  Motion capture can give you that gamer video game look, where your talent can end up with dead eyes and little expression.  Our talent, as it was a real living person, had a soul with real life expressions, and therefore was more believable. The approach worked better for our event.
Tell us about your new studio in Los Angeles.


Vello Virkhaus
The new studio officially opens in January of this year.  After years of working out of a house and then working out of a shot gun-style office with no sense of privacy, we made the move into our warehouse/studio and were liberated.  We now have a studio dedicated to 2D and 3D animation and design, a warehouse area for programming and occasional video shoots, a tech area for R&D and last of all our front offices for production and administration.  This leaves room for a multi faceted approach where almost anything in the experiential live environment is possible with the VSL team.
Do you believe that one day this tech will replace actual performers?

Vello Virkhaus
No, people will always want to see the performer live.  Holographic displays are a great solution for fans who want to see a deceased artist or for talent that need to be in more places than one.  This specifically applies to the corporate world where brand CEOs want to do some sort of big announcement.  We are able to stream their image live to holographic set ups with attentive audiences all over the world.  The day that an entertainer or singer embraces the technology to do 3 or 4 shows in different regions on a single evening is possible, but has yet to be executed as far as we know.
How will you make the experience more compelling going forward?

Vello Virkhaus
We would like to not just work with recreating or live streaming artists, but also creating a graphic overlay that can create other worlds for both the “on screen” talent as well as the talent on stage.  The sky is the limit as far as uses of the technology.  Our objective is the “wow” factor, but the technology also has very functional and practical uses in the corporate arena.  That is most likely going to be the immediate use of this technology moving forward.  We are not going to hold our breath for the Madonna multi-city hologram tour anytime soon.  But we of course are standing by to make it happen when it does materialize.
Can people rent the tech for their own performances/shows/presentations?


Vello Virkhaus
For starters, you purchase the plastic fusion eyeliner screen.  It’s expensive and can only be used once.  The set up requires experienced professional rigging, projectors and projectionist.  As mentioned earlier, one mis-step can cause the whole screen to come ripping apart.  We would not suggest trying to take this on without a team that has done this successfully before.  The “Pepper’s Ghost” illusion may have been an old parlor trick at one time, but with modern technology the complications are endless and at the end of the day, you have only one shot to get it right.  We collaborated with both Holition and Giant Steps to ensure our holographic experience was a smashing success. Failure was not an option, so don’t try this at home!


Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.

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