American Idol: Elvis Has Left the Building
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Celine Dion Elvis

Wednesday night on American Idol was billed as having the biggest duet in Idol history as part of their Idol Gives Back charity event show. This duet event featured Celine Dion and the visiting spirit of Elvis Presley, the original American idol, singing his 1968 hit, “If I Can Dream”.

Although Elvis Presley died back in 1977 at age 42, through the magic of modern technology (well, not totally modern, but I’ll get to that) he was able to join in on this charity event. The first time I was watching the performance I was too fixated on the “how” question and had to go back for a replay to really enjoy it. That still left me with the “how did they do it” question.

An initial search for images the morning after the show returned to me two interesting photos. The first showed Celine Dion on stage performing next to a man dressed in white and looking like Elvis. The second picture was of a similar angle but instead showed Celine standing there performing alone. Unfortunately, of course, I didn’t have the sense to save the second one as I had been more interested in the photo featuring the duet. When I returned today to pull down that picture, both were gone. Lucky for you I did save the first, and here it is:

Celine Dion Elvis Presley Duet

There was plenty of speculation going around on how this was accomplished. I had read that an impersonator was going to be used, but the picture looked so fuzzy and a little peculiar that it made me wonder if it was all digital. Then I even received some comments that it had in fact been a hologram. That would entail the audience seeing a 3 dimensional projecting of Elvis up there on stage. This possibility was refuted by hologram expert, Steve Wilson from London. He noted that Elvis appeared more “real” from certain camera angles. A hologram, he proposed, would have provided a more consistent view of Presley from all angles.

From what I’ve read and what I saw I’m coming to the same conclusion as Steve Wilson. Elvis’ appearance was accomplished by taking the video recording of his 1968 performance of “If I Can Dream” from a comeback special on NBC. Then using this footage Fox was able to superimpose Elvis Presley onto the broadcast video so he’d appear next to Celine Dion. The rumors of the impersonator was likely somewhat accurate as he could have been there for practice rounds, but absent during the live show.

Update: Even more information from ABC News on this technique, which it turns out is called Rotoscoping:

“Rotoscoping allows you to take one image from a pre-existing piece of video and puts him a whole new environment — completely new use of that same piece of video,” Disney digital media designer Joe Husung said.

Last week, Dion spent hours on the stage singing her part of the song several times without an audience or anyone next to her, looking to her side on cue.

Then she did the routine again with a Presley body double who lip-synced Presley’s song and matched his moves from his 1968 performance.

Finally, all three elements — Dion by herself, Dion with the body double and the original Presley performance — were combined through editing and rotoscoping, which traced Presley from the original footage.

So while this was very cool and came off well it’s really nothing new. The most similar example is from when Natalie King Cole performed “Unforgettable” with her deceased father, Nat King Cole, using previous recordings. Elvis is also no stranger to this method. He appeared in Forrest Gump back in 1994 using similar techniques as well as the very creepy Pizza Hut commercials where they had him selling us the latest pizza style using very awkward video editing. Although this particular method and implementation was nothing revolutionary it was still impressive and I certainly enjoyed it. Perhaps the producers of American Idol could use it to instill a little life into next week’s performances.

Update (4/29): David graciously shared this link to a step through video of the video techniques used for creating this duet performance. It’s a little lengthy, but well worth it if you’re really interested in this topic. Video Podcast: Watch How They Did It! Elvis Presley and Celine Dion Duet Examined with Foolish Commentary

Here are both performances for your enjoyment. First, the Idol Gives Back video of Celine Dion and Elvis Presley performing “If I Can Dream”. Second, the video footage from Presley’s 1968 NBC comeback special of “If I Can Dream”.

Update (5/4): Thanks to BB for letting me know the videos had gone down. They’ve now been replaced with new versions.

Check out the rest of our American Idol coverage.

SirLinksALot: American Idol

Written by: Matt
Posted on: Friday, April 27, 2007

11 Responses to “American Idol: Elvis Has Left the Building”

  1. A Discerning Viewer

    Two comments… if it were live, then there were two issues: Where were the judges in the crowd shots… and how did Ricky Minor make it back from the WDCH for the one performance?

  2. Matt

    Live or not it was broadcast during the live show. I was more interested in how they did it.

  3. David

    Hi. The guys over at 2 Live Fools did a great overlapping splitscreen from the original concert to the American Idol concert!??You should check it out at 2 Live Fools: How the Elvis and Celine Duet was done!

  4. Matt

    Great find David. Thanks for sharing that, it was very interesting. I’ll update the article to include a link over there.

  5. BB

    You might want to update your article to remove the performance videos, as they are both no longer available.

  6. BB

    Here’s a link that currently is working to the combined performance:

  7. Matt

    BB, thank you very much for the update and new links.

  8. Matt

    I’m new to and was having troubles getting it to let me get to the embed code. I’ll keep taking a look at that, but for the moment I swapped out the bad videos for new ones at YT. Thanks again.

  9. Great One

    well it was really simple, how they did it!.. and here it is.. it was God who did it, God gave permission to Elvis to sing a last song on earth!…

    well not really but i like to think it of that way.. and i saw the video of elvis If i can dream, before it appear with celine dion, so i just figure they put him in there, because of the movements he does

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