Dancing Machine

Virtual entertainers are here, when they work correctly

Being the first in with a new technology requires a leap of faith. And it usually requires working out some bugs, as well. But give Lolita’s Cantina and Tequila Bar owner Eric DeBlasi credit for bringing the latest innovation in entertainment to his Town Square venture.

Lolita’s bills itself as the first nightclub in the U.S. with holographic entertainment, and while the technology has potential, its capabilities are limited for now. And it doesn’t always work as planned. On a recent visit, the dancer fizzled out after about 30 seconds. However, Ann DeVilbiss, owner and creative director of Digital Illusions, the Cleveland-based company behind the hologram, says that will soon change.

“Within a few months it’s going to be pretty kick-ass,” she says. “But now they’re still figuring it out.”

One big drawback is lack of content, and DeVilbiss is working to develop more. Lolita’s has holograms for five dancers, a Mariachi band and a DJ. She recently shot video of break dancers, tango dancers and Flamenco dancers.

“We’re building a holographic content library so in a year, two years from now, anybody in any nightclub around the country or around the world can literally buy packages of content so they don’t have to build it like Lolita’s is doing it at this point,” she says. “And that’s going to be the real key. You know, the screens are really great and everybody loves the effect and stuff, but there’s no content out there. And that’s what I’m doing.”

The technology also requires DJs at Lolita’s to add another skill to their job: Incorporate visual content into their sets. In order to accommodate that, Digital Illusions is creating footage of dancers moving to different beats so DJs will have complete control. “We’re developing this as we go, and we have some of the best DJs in Vegas helping us. It’s going to be big,” DeVilbiss says.

The large-format holographic project is based on the Pepper’s ghost technique, the same principle behind the 40-year-old illusions at Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The image is projected from the ceiling to the floor, DeVilbiss says, then reflected back onto “a piece of optically perfect clear plastic at a 45-degree angle.” “You’re looking at a reflection, but you will never be able to see that reflection on that clear screen, ever,” DeVilbiss says. “I’ve tried a million times. Your eyes literally see it stand up onstage.”

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