Tech renders iconic rockers Kiss genuinely immortal
Final farewell show unveils the band's digital form
After half a century of recording and performing, rock icons Kiss closed out "The End of Road" farewell tour on Saturday night. But the encore revealed something we all knew deep down to be true – Kiss is forever.
With co-founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons in their 70s, and Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer no spring chickens either, the band gave its final physical performance at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Emphasis on "physical," however. Like some sort of sci-fi rock opera fit only for an act of Kiss's scale and renown, the band introduced their metal-as-fvck digital likenesses at the end of Saturday's performance. This incarnation is set to propel Kiss – and its members' estates – into eternity.
Taking cues from the "ABBA Voyage" show in London, which nets $2 million a week, Kiss turned to the project's authors – George Lucas's special FX unit Industrial Light & Magic, and Pophouse Entertainment, co-founded by ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus.
In both cases, Industrial Light & Magic had the members wear motion capture equipment to gather all the data for each avatar, while Pophouse handles the infrastructure – 600 tons of equipment for ABBA Voyage – needed to make it look like either band is performing in their prime.
"What we've accomplished has been amazing, but it's not enough. The band deserves to live on because the band is bigger than we are," Kiss frontman Paul Stanley said in a roundtable interview promoting the idea. "It's exciting for us to go the next step and see Kiss immortalized."
"We can be forever young and forever iconic by taking us to places we've never dreamed of before," bassist Gene Simmons added. "The technology is going to make Paul jump higher than he's ever done before."
"And it won't hurt," Stanley shot back.
The interview is worth watching, Kiss fan or not, as a bittersweet stroll down memory lane and a painful goodbye to a rock 'n' roll institution. But there are also intriguing tidbits on how the technology works, including the ability of the avatars to react to the audience because the rendering is done in real time. You can see the immortal version of the band from the 28-minute mark.
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The concept works particularly well for Kiss because they were one of the first rock outfits to adopt personas – The Starchild, Demon, Spaceman, and Catman – with the corresponding black and white makeup immediately recognizable to pretty much everyone, irrespective of whether they know or even like the band.
Anyone who has seen clips of ABBA Voyage would probably agree that what Industrial Light & Magic has achieved is impressive, albeit with a smidge of "Uncanny Valley," and while you'd be unlikely to find Reg staffers among the audience, it does look like a good night out.
We can see this technology being rolled out to more bands as the biggest names in music throw in the towel, or even acts that have long been off the performing circuit as complete lineups. A show based on Led Zeppelin in their '70s prime would be our vote. We can also imagine a tribute to David Bowie, who died in 2016, being incredibly popular.
Industrial Light & Magic used similar approaches to render a young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in The Mandalorian TV show, and revive Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing, who died in 1994) for Rogue One.
Kiss Army members who have never had the chance to see the band play may be able to attend a rather more cinematic concert in the future. After all, Pophouse CEO Per Sundin said: "Kiss could have a concert in three cities in the same night across three different continents. That's what you could do with this."
Still, it's not the real thing, and people may take umbrage with that. But that leaves us with the question: which acts would you actually pay to see in digital form? Let us know in the comments. ®