Meet Jon Hamm, the hologram (aka the holohamm)

As fun as it was pretending the "Mad Men" star was my Ken doll, the gimmick also gave a glimpse at how mixed reality may put stars at our sides.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Joan E. Solsman
3 min read
Watch this: Introducing Jon Hamm, the hologram

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.


Jon Hamm the hologram gamely allowed me to hold him like a toy doll. At least I didn't pet him, like the real Jon Hamm did.


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, where I battled through the snow covering Park City, Utah, to take a look.

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 snowy Park City. 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....

Update: "Marjorie Prime" is in theatres from 18 August.

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