Gorillaz ape a Victorian parlour trick for a bit of stage presence
By Adam Sherwin, Media Reporter
THEIR show is a stunning mixture of animation, music and 3D technology. But the truth behind the cutting edge Gorillaz live experience can now be revealed: it is a Victorian illusion you can do at home.
Last night, Damon Albarn’s 10 million-selling creation made history by performing simultaneously at the MTV Europe Awards in Lisbon and at the Opera House, Manchester.
The Portuguese audience saw ghostly, billboard-sized versions of the characters 2D and Murdoc perform their award-winning hit Feel Good Inc on virtual instruments.
But at a behind-the-scenes visit to their Lisbon rehearsal, The Times learnt that the truth is far less hi-tech than audiences might think. In reality, it is a “smoke and mirrors” illusion.
Cara Speller, producer of the Gorillaz live extravaganza at the London animation house Passion Pictures, said: “It’s quite old technology. It’s essentially Pepper’s Ghost, which was a Victorian invention of reflection and projection on to mirrors.”
Pepper’s Ghost was the key precursor of the cinema show on British fairgrounds. In 1862, John Henry Pepper of the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London created a machine that used mirrors and lenses to project a ghostly image.
To make Pepper’s Ghost appear, someone offstage would be highlighted so that the light waves bounced off a piece of glass, strategically placed at an angle. The reflected image would appear to be onstage. It is the same principle used in fighter aircraft, where a ghostly image of graphic flight and radar data float before the pilot.
Ms Speller said that they had merely updated the process with special materials “to do what we need to”.
Amateur animators could create their own chart-topping multimedia project at home with a glass mirror, candle, a piece of black fabric and a grounding in GCSE physics.
However, a state-of-the-art software package and the vision of Jamie Hewlett, a graphic designer and founding Gorillaz member, would be needed truly to match the effect. Ms Speller added: “Our Gorillaz aren’t holograms because holographic technology isn’t quite up to what we need. It is digital animation projected on special transparent foil in a way that appears holographic.”
Gorillaz have held discussions with George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic studio about incorporating further advances in 3D computer technology for a global tour in 2007.
Gorillaz are performing for five nights in Manchester, where the audience were told that 2D and Murdoc could not attend last night because they were in Lisbon. Blur singer Albarn formed Gorillaz with Tank Girl artist Hewlett in 2001, selling six million copies of their debut album. The follow-up, Demon Days, has passed the four million mark.
Niamh Byrne, Gorillaz’ manager, said: “We debuted Gorillaz live at the Brits four years ago but only now has the technology caught up with Damon and Jamie’s vision. Even now we have only touched the surface of what will be possible on the world tour in 2007 in terms of skin tone, moving hair and interaction with the audience.”
MTV Europe Awards 2005, 9pm, MTV. Gorillaz play the Opera House, Manchester, today and tomorrow.