Even if you don't know Chris "Broadway" Romero's name, hip-hop fans most certainly know his work. This past weekend, Romero was an essential part of a team that thrilled the crowd at the Rock the Bells festival in Los Angeles, by helping to bring fallen rap legends Eazy-E and Ol' Dirty Bastard back to life.
Eazy was reunited in spirit and hologram with his protégés Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on Saturday night, while ODB rejoined his Wu-Tang Clan on Sunday. The holographic effect was months in the making and was done with the help of Rock the Bells organizers Guerilla Union, the families of Eazy and ODB as well as Romero and Play Gig-It, the company behind the music-based Facebook game.
For Romero however, the journey started in 2001 when he was tasked with animating the late Big Pun for his posthumous "How We Roll" music video for his posthumous Endangered Species LP. "In 2001 I was sitting with Fat Joe in the back on an Italian restaurant... it was kind of the same types of conversations I have now with Eazy-E and Dirty's family," Romero told MTV News. "They have the same concerns that Fat Joe and Big Pun's people had with his legacy 12 years ago. I carry that reputation and that desire to keep extending the legacies for artists who aren't here."
Since animating the Pun video, Romero began making a name for himself directing videos like "Piggy Bank," "I Get Money" and "Ok You're Right" for 50 Cent. Last year he hooked up with Play Gig-It CEO John Acunto and began creating 3-D avatars for his concert-based Facebook game, the transition from that to helping to develop holograms for Rock the Bells came seamlessly. But it all goes back to last year's Tupac Shakur hologram stunt at Coachella. "[Guerilla Union founder] Chang Weisberg was present at Coachella to see the Tupac hologram and was really inspired by what he saw at Coachella; he had a million phone calls behind it," Romero explained.
Romero and his team even hooked up with AV Concepts, the same minds behind the eye-popping 'Pac stunt. "AV Concepts are actually the guys that did the execution of the avatar from a technology and set-up stand point," he said. "My job is to recreate that feeling as good as possible and even a little bit larger than life."
To recreate that feeling, Romero and a team of about 15 different people used a myriad of different reanimation techniques and even some motion capturing. "With Eazy-E, I actually worked with all of his kids," he revealed. "One of his kids helped with the voice of Eazy-E talking to the crowd, one of his kids did his actual body movements and one of his kids did his facial movements."
Broadway also was sure to include ODB's son Young Dirty, who regularly performs with Wu-Tang in his dad's place. "In terms of embodying his father, straight A-alike. There's no one closer you're going to get to bring that performance out," he said. "There's digital DNA infused into these projects and it's the only way I like to work, as much as I can. I don't like to coldly separate from stuff, especially if there is willing family involvement."
Ultimately Romero is tasked with making sure the holograms feel authentic, and that means making sure that Eazy is outfitted in his Dickies suit and Reebok Classics and every braid on ODB's head is in place, as well as the gold grills in his mouth.
"We're nothing short of magicians in that sense," he said.