Jon Hamm, hologram: 'Mad Men' star gives Sundance a look at augmented reality

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by Joan E. Solsman January 27, 2017 5:00 AM PST @joan_e

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Introducing Jon Hamm, the hologram

Ever dream of a world with two Jon Hamms? Hologram-tech company 8i made it a reality for a movie premiere party at Sundance.

by Joan E. Solsman

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I trudged through a foot of snow to peek at how mixed reality may bring us closer to the stars we adore.

OK, really, I trudged through a foot of snow to hold a miniature Jon Hamm in the palm of my hand. But mixed-reality revelations were a bonus.

Mixed, or augmented, reality is the term for technology that overlays digital images on top of the visible world. Think those little digital monsters superimposed on the real world on your phone in Pokemon Go. On the heels of virtual reality, mixed and augmented reality are the next tech-hype darling, driven by projects like Microsoft's HoloLens and buzzy-but-secretive startup Magic Leap.

Demos like the holographic Hamm provide a glimpse at the tech's possibilities for entertainment, when mixed reality makes it possible to break down the barrier between the fictional worlds we love and the real world we live in everyday.

Magic Leap, for example, caused a tizzy in June when it announced a partnership with Lucasfilm and played a demo MR video setting loose "Star Wars" droids R2-D2 and C-3P0 in a commonplace meeting room.

"Imagine if the Mos Eisley spaceport is now in the back of your school," Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz said at the time. "Can you theme your life a little bit around 'Star Wars'?"

The Hamm hologram (or holohamm) was created with tech from 8i, a company focused on creating "volumetric" videos of real people -- essentially, 3D captures of humans that you, as a viewer, can walk all around.

The company has mostly focused on sticking its 3D renderings inside virtual reality, such as its project to bring a holographic Buzz Aldrin to isolated astronauts in training. But in instances like the holohamm, 8i can also beam the simulation into the real world, visible to anyone via a supported mobile device or headset like the coming HoloLens or Meta 2.

But the clutch facet for filmmakers: Off-the-shelf cameras can capture the raw footage for a hologram, theoretically making it easier to adopt this technique. Software from 8i is the high-tech, rarified part of the equation.

The holohamm was created for the premiere party of the film "Marjorie Prime" at the Sundance Film Festival. In the movie, the "Mad Men" actor actually plays a hologram, an artificially intelligent simulation of an elderly character's deceased husband designed to keep her company.

So why not make an actual Hamm hologram for the premiere? Best party trick ever.

At the party Monday, fans and other stars scurried up for their moments with the holohamm. Co-star Geena Davis held the holohamm in her hand, too, and took the liberty of giving of him a sharp poke. (Luckily, the holohamm feels no pain.) The real Hamm joined her and a life-size holohamm later to make a "Hamm sandwich," with Davis in the middle. Left on his own with his holographic avatar, the real Hamm petted the holohamm like a puppy.

After holding the holohamm briefly, I left him to keep partying in Park City, Utah. Halohamm 1.0 was great to meet, but I didn't need to take him home with me.

Now, when he can start telling me the weather and ordering an Uber like my Amazon Echo....

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