Behind the Tupac hologram: Inside Digital Domain

@CNNMoneyTech May 10, 2012: 9:30 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- You've probably heard that rapper Tupac Shakur's hologram was a hit at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, but you may not know that the company that created the virtual image has been around for more than 20 years.

The production company, Digital Domain Media Group (DDMG), was originally founded by film director James Cameron and is one of the early pioneers in visual effects. Its recent projects include creating visual effects for movies such as "Transformers," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

"We like to think that if a film maker can dream it, we can put it on screen," said Chief Executive Officer John Textor. "There is no scenario that's too big for us to imagine or too complicated for us to deliver."

In between creating onscreen robots and destroying New York City, as the production company did in the film "2012," Digital Domain has moved the special-effects experience out of the movie theaters and into the real world. Its hologram of the late Tupac Shakur performing with Dr. Dre at Coachella created a ton of buzz about the idea of tours with other deceased artists like Michael Jackson.

Textor wouldn't comment on the exact technology used to make the virtual image of the late rapper, it's similar to the tricks Digital Domain used to create an aged Benjamin Button in first 52 minutes of the film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

"There was no Brad Pitt," said Textor. "It was an older likeness of Brad Pitt, but it was an entirely animated head."

The company is aiming to follow in the steps of Disney (DIS, Fortune 500) and its animation studio, Pixar, by creating family-oriented feature length animation films. It's currently developing its own project: "The Legend of Tembo," the tale of a young elephant who becomes a battle elephant and tries to find his way back home to Africa.

Digital Domain also has more than 330 employees working to develop new and innovative forms of digital technology, like military simulation environments for training soldiers and surgical simulations for doctors to practice on.

CNNMoney got an exclusive look inside its new production facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where the crew works on feature animation, converts two dimensional films to 3-D and creates digital effects for some of Hollywood's biggest films. To top of page

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