Chris Romero, better know as the most coveted property on a Monopoly board, “Broadway,” is a herald 3D animator, and this year is responsible for creating the avatars of fallen rappers Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Eazy-E for the 10th anniversary of Rock The Bells.
The avatars will make their appearances at each tour date, giving those attendees who never experienced seeing ODB and Eazy-E perform live the chance to witness their stage presence.
As the animator who also created Big Pun’s virtual identity in his posthumous track “How We Roll,” Broadway was the go-to visual arts guru to do these rappers justice, who also has his sights on creating avatars for Michael Jackson, Aaliyah, Whitney Houston, and Bob Marley.
Read what the “Piggy Bank” director had to say about the process behind these avatars, what experience he gained from working with the respective rappers’ families, and what challenging part of the process he encountered. – Camille Augustin
What is the background or behind the scenes details as to how this idea was formed?
Broadway: The idea came together when Chang Weisberg of Guerilla Union and John Acunto, the CEO and founder of 212 Decibels and Play GigIt, they got together at first about the game which is out now and available on Facebook and it was big exciting project involving a whole lot of artists. It involved the creation of avatars for these artists so that the fans can create these concepts on Facebook. We were already heavily involved in the discussion of digital likenesses and extending the value of music and performance. They just naturally progressed in this conversation. Chang saw the Tupac hologram at Coachella and he was ridiculously excited. Everyone started calling him because they know he’s kind of big on the hip hop history and he’s really big on putting together these mega-concerts like Rock The Bells. Those two guys together, they both love concerts and they both have a deep respect for hip hop. When I came along and my history of having kind of done a lot of animated work and avatar creation for a long time all came together in a natural way. Late spring, John sat me down and we talked about it and it came together to something exciting.
How long did the process take to create these holograms?
Any type of high-level production you want to take as much time as you possibly come. I’ve had projects that have taken weeks and I have projects that have taken months. You want to spend as much time as possible on the various stages of putting it together.
What was the hardest detail to imitate about each rapper?
The main thing was getting the right people involved to help with the performances. You’ve guys have seen the movie Avatar, how they do performance capture, there’s some of those elements involved. It was getting those performances translated into the digital world and bringing it all together in a life-like that people will like. Sometimes we place a heavy emphasis on being accurate to how they dress so all those details are equally important. The main thing we want to capture is what it feels like to see the artist on a stage. A lot of people that are going to be there may not have even seen ODB or Eazy-E perform live. To bring all these elements and details together, the hat, the glasses, the shape of his face, the different facial expressions while they’re performing, they all come together. They are also important really.
Did the significance of the Rock The Bells dates, one being the last time ODB performed at the inaugural 2003 Rock The Bells, and the other being Eazy-E’s 50th birthday, play a factor in choosing these rappers to create their virtual forms?
That had a lot to do with it. There’s so much history being created at once. It’s Rock The Bells 10th anniversary, it’s Eazy-E’s 50th birthday, Wu-Tang Clan is at a milestone, so it’s crazy that all this is coming together. I believe that the seventh is Eazy-E’s actual birthday so it’s really crazy. It’s amazing that it all happened, but it’s something that I think also had a large bearing on the decisions that were made for sure.
What discoveries did you take from watching the Tupac hologram at Coachella in 2012?
I mainly looked at how they created the interactions with Snoop [Dogg] and the other people on stage. That was a big part of making the whole presentation believable. In hip hop you want guys that’s always interacting, there’s interaction with the crowd, so those elements down to how all that can come together and setting up the digital and the human elements, they’re all almost equally important because they all lean on each other in a way. It was looking at how they did that, how they staged him, how they lit him; all those type of things were good benchmark references, just what would be most effective.
Before that eerie yet impressive version of Tupac was revealed, was this idea always on the table?
Yeah for me I’ve kind of been doing this type of work since 2000, 2001. I did when Big Pun died, I did his first single of his posthumous album, he died in the middle of an album cycle so they didn’t have a visual or anything to do for the single that they had. So I did the video called “How We Roll” and that was my first kind of involvement in terms of bringing back an artist that had deceased in an untimely way. This is just something that I definitely was super excited about when I saw it. I almost shook my head because I animated Tupac a couple years ago it just wasn’t time. I had a light conversation with their camp and Sha Money XL was leading the way on that. He’s over at Epic now, but Sha is the same guy that hired me as G-Unit’s creative director and media director for a long time, so it’s all these circles that intersect. Animation and music and hip hop has been a thing for me for over a decade now.
What was it like having Eazy-E and ODB’s families involved in the process?
It’s really bomb working on the creative process. That’s one of my favorite parts of this because that’s it’s own reward, before the world even sees it or hits the stage, working with them and helping keep the energy going, and helping them give the energy to go a place in a sense because we’re bringing you guys back to the spotlight. The world’s going to love it and go crazy, but these families that’s their everyday. That’s their legacy every second, so it helped having their blessing and their involvement at the most crucial level of the project. Working with YBD, and the rest of ODB’s family that’s been involved has been amazing.
Were you surprised by their support to go forth with the project?
No I wasn’t surprised because sometimes you just kind of just know what you’re supposed to be doing and I know this is one of those things. I wasn’t surprised at all because you look at what we’re doing, what we’re doing overall as a company as far as 212 and GigIt go, it’s really unprecedented in terms of the connection and the depth of how much we’re bringing the music industry into other realms, whether it be Facebook from a social-gaming perspective or whether it be working and being involved in continuing the legacy of those virtual performance planned. All these great artists and all this great music that’s passed on, it just gives a hip hop a real bright future.
In an interview you guys said you had to dig deep to reveal the intimate side of Eazy-E and you mainly gained that knowledge from his widow Tomica. What did you learn about Eazy-E that you might not have known before?
I really learned how much care he really took into getting everything right for his performances and really how real laid back he was because there was this perception of how hype he was and going at Dr. Dre and they were going back and forth, but that was just a small section of his career as the whole Death Row situation happened. That’s the impact that I gained and how much Tomica was really involved in helping keep him in order. I really just feel the history in talking to her so much like, “He wouldn’t do this, he wouldn’t wear that, he moves like this.” It was really her that played like a producer and an advisor role on it with me. She arranged a lot of the involvement with Eazy’s kids to get them involved and help me make this the best that it can be.
What was the reaction you received from the Wu-Tang Clan and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony when you told them that they would be performing with hologram ODB and Eazy-E?
They were definitely excited. At the announcement I spoke to Bizzy Bone a little bit, but it was really early in what we were doing so I couldn’t reveal too much about the details. A lot of things were still up in the air, but I could tell them the fact that this was going to happen, it was major. And even that night to see them perform and even when they do their Biggie set I get chills because I think of that possibility down the line, and this music is two-fold. These guys are gone, one, but the music itself has so much information and storylines buried in the music and buried in a time before the Internet could provide all this conceptual information that it’s like a gold mine. I don’t mean it in an exploitative way; it’s just so much richness in the culture that I think we’re going to help bring out. This is one major way we can do it, because I’ve seen it move the crowd, so if we can take these virtual representations and move crowds with it then I think we’re doing the best we can.
Photo Credit: myspace