Behind the Tech: Bringing the William Shatner hologram to life

William Shatner interview

Catherine Bowe: “It really illustrated how cutting edge this technology is”

Earlier this year, Advertising Week APAC was host to an event that could have come straight out of Star Trek. Actor William Shatner joined the crowd live and direct via hologram.

Powered by holographic communications platform, Proto Hologram, Shatner joined the crowd to chat with Meta’s Catherine Bowe, who was tasked with interviewing the 92-year-old from the Australian end of the connection.

Mediaweek caught up with Bowe to speak about the cutting edge technology that made the interview possible, and what it was that stuck with her most from the conversation.

Looking back to the beginning of it all, Bowe says that she ended up on stage with Shatner via her work with the Advertising Week Advisory Committee. 

“They reached out to the whole Advisory Committee once they secured William Shatner and said, ‘he’s been secured, any ideas on who could interview him?’. I was very fortunate that a couple of people actually nominated me. It was actually Jules Lund, I blame him entirely! 

I was thrilled, but also thought, oh my goodness, I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m usually the one behind the camera briefing the speakers, not the one who’s there on stage. It was a lot of fun, it was good to delve into something completely different.”

william shatner adweek

William Shatner via hologram

Reflecting on the early stages of organising the interview, Bowe says that the presentation could have looked a lot different from the futuristic technology showcase that it ended up being. 

“He did speak at South by Southwest earlier in the year, and people look at what’s going on for similar events. But he was also in Australia earlier this year filming in Coober Pedy, and so because he was here, he got raised on the radar. 

“The idea was originally for him to be there in person and to be able to have a chat and all of that. It was his idea to actually do it via a hologram.”

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and after testing the hologram over and over, a gag about being frozen from Shatner accidentally muted the tech. Although it was quickly resolved, Bowe says that it highlighted just how new hologram technology really is, and that the rest of the presentation “went exceptionally well.”

“In the 10-minute period where we didn’t know if we were going to get the tech to work, I felt like there was something quite powerful that happened,” said Bowe.

“The feeling in the room was really supportive. The number of people that I was getting eye contact from to say ‘this is cool, it’s fine, it’s good – don’t worry about it, we’re here and we’re not going anywhere’. When the tech actually came through, there was this riotous applause, it was amazing. I’ve never experienced that in a room before.

“This wasn’t by design, but it really illustrated how cutting edge this technology is. Once was up and running, the experience was incredible.”

It wasn’t just Bowe and the Australian team who had to prepare for Shatner to be beamed in, with the American team on the ground in LA making some adjustments as well.  

The view from LA. Credit: David Nussbaum @ Proto

The view from LA. Credit: David Nussbaum at Proto

“From a tech side of things, I wanted to know what the experience was going to be like on his end, I wanted to know what he could see,” said Bowe. “He could see directly out from him, so he could see the audience in front of him – that was a really important thing for him, he really needed to have that immediate feedback – but he also needed to see me. That was something that we had to adapt at the other end, because he needed to have two screens.”

Having spoken to Shatner about so many aspects of his life and experiences whilst on stage, Bowe says that there is one particular topic he touched on that has stuck with her. 

“His experience of going to outer space is just so truly unique. He’s one of 600 people that have ever been outside of the atmosphere, so it’s truly incredible. He has this really, really beautiful understanding of how the universe and the planet are so interconnected, and how everything communicates with each other. 

“He thought before going that he was going to be really interested in what was out there, but in fact, what actually broke his heart was actually looking back at the vastness of out there and had tiny we are. He had a real rallying call to the industry, to advertisers and people of influence, and people who can help to impact culture that we’ve got a real responsibility to honour our protection of the planet through what we do. I think he spoke about that beautifully.”

See Also: Beaming into the Future: The rise of holographic communication

Top Image: Catherine Bowe interviews William Shatner via hologram. Photo credit: TeleIn

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