Elvis Presley Is Coming to London — Sort Of

Just when you thought there was little left to be learned about Elvis Presley, an AI-enhanced immersive experience aims to humanize “the King of rock ‘n’ roll.”

His death at the age of 42 in 1977 triggered worldwide mourning among thousands of fans, including swarms that descended on the grounds of Graceland, the Memphis, Tenn., mansion where he had been first found unconscious, to pay their respects. Now Layered Reality, a U.K.-based production company, aims to tap into the performer’s legend and continuing fan base with the “Elvis Evolution.”

Slated to debut in London in November, the immersive experience already has a waiting list. The show joins a growing list of such digitally heavy experiences, including Mercer Labs Museum of Art and Technology’s “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” and the recently opened “Immersive Fort Tokyo,” the world’s first immersive theme park with 12 attractions. As of last year, the “Abba Voyage,” which features an avatar band, reportedly reeled in $2 million annually. The band Kiss, which just sold its music catalogue to the Pophouse Entertainment Group for a reported $300-plus million, is also planning an avatar band experience as part of that deal.

Layered Reality already has a track record in the medium through “Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds” and the “Gunpowder Plot,” nearly two-hour immersive experiences in London. Next up is “Dream Flier,” an augmented reality and virtual reality-powered experience in London that is set to open later this year before moving to the U.S. The premise is a female engineer creates a biofuel jetpack so that others can fly above cities, with visitors serving as test pilots, complete with the sound of wind, the coolness of air and thrashing rain before exiting with a “Hollywood style trailer” of the experience.

Layered Reality

Layered Reality specializes in immersive experiences, where visitors feel they are part of the action. Here, a glimpse of “Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds.”

Photo Courtesy Layered Reality

As for the “Elvis Evolution,” visitors are meant to feel they are walking in Elvis’ shoes and seeing what shaped him as a man as well as his musical influences. Layered Reality’s cofounder and chief executive officer Andrew McGuinness says that rather than be told about that journey, visitors will follow his trajectory from growing up in a small Mississippi town to being on the largest stages in the world. After experiencing that, visitors will watch what appears to be Presley performing. The AI-enhanced technology draws upon hundreds of hours of footage and thousands of stills thanks to Authentic Brands Group, which owns Elvis Presley Enterprises, capturing everything about Presley — from facial expressions to body movements. The takeaway is what McGuinness describes as “an authentic version of Elvis, but Elvis is able to do things that we would never have been able to see him do in real life.”

Elvis publicity shot from the movie ÔClambakeÕ, 1967. An image from the Elvis archive - credit Elvis Presley Enterprises LLC

Elvis publicity shot from the movie “Clambake,” 1967.

Image from Elvis Archives/Courtesy Elvis Presley Enterprises LLC

One example might be that if original footage was shot facing Presley, during a concert, AI might take the rear view or the view that Presley had during that same concert. “that’s effectively creating footage that’s never been seen before. But it’s from an absolutely authentic source,” McGuinness says. “It’s really astounding what that technology allows us to do and it has only really emerged in this sphere in the last couple of years. And it’s improving all the time.”

Rather than wear VR goggles, ticketholders will watch the Presley-inspired figure in front of their eyes. Despite “the enormous amount of technology that will be used,” Layered Reality aims to make it invisible so that people lose themselves in the experience, as though they are attending a real Presley concert. Groups will be capped at 40 to follow his life, and just under 200 will catch the finale performance. On a daily basis, about 2,000 people are expected to pass through. The investment is a multimillion-dollar one.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality, AI and augmented reality are increasingly being used for immersive experiences to offer a new dimension in entertainment.

Started seven years ago, Layered Reality is now a 200-person team that flexes up with an additional 100 people or so as it takes on specialists when creating a new production. “One of the brilliant things we do is end up with the most eclectic group of people — costume designers; coders, especially ones with virtual reality expertise; directors; actors; performers; content creators; architects, and people who wouldn’t normally come across each other in everyday life,” McGuinness says.

Elvis performing at the ÔAloha from HawaiiÕ concert special in January 1973 - An image from the Elvis archive - credit Elvis Presley Enterprises LLC

Elvis performing at the “Aloha from Hawaii” concert special in January 1973.

An image from the Elvis archive/Courtesy Elvis Presley Enterprises LLC.

So why doesn’t the appeal about Presley fade?

McGuinness is quick to praise Baz Luhrmann’s film “Elvis” for bolstering the icon’s fan base and chalks up Elvis’ staying power to having multiple legacies simultaneously — the major musical one; his ascent aligned with the birth of rock ‘n’ roll; his fashion remains an influence, and his up-by-your-bootstraps beginnings and human flaws are relatable as ever, according to McGuinness.

Elvis pictured outside his ÔGracelandÕ home, purchased in 1957 - An image from the Elvis archive - undated - credit Elvis Presley Enterprises LLC

Elvis pictured outside his Graceland home that he purchased in 1957.

Image from Elvis Archive/Courtesy Elvis Presley Enterprises LLC

“Fashion-wise, if you look at the fashion sense of Harry Styles, he is very influenced by Elvis,” McGuinness says. “In the back of our minds, we know this was a guy who came from nothing, and made himself the greatest star in the world. There is something in all of us that aspires to that. Is he the personification of the American dream? That’s incredibly energizing to people.”

Layered Reality

Marc Dawson/Courtesy Layered Reality

Visitors will go through multiple scenes and time periods, such as his childhood home, auditions and other pivotal places that have been recreated like intricate movie sets. As its name suggests, Layered Reality layers theater in a multisensory environment with live stage sets with live performing musicians or actors. There are also digital elements like VR, projection mapping, binormal sound, physical sensations by tinkering with temperature, touch, physical movements, motion control systems and aroma.

It all begins in an actual diner, where food and beverages will be available to purchase and the final stop is an after-party bar with Presley’s music piped in. There will also be music that Presley influences like songs by Miley Cyrus and Harry Styles. Playing into the pompadour-haired musician’s signature style, there will be plenty of Authentic Brands Group-approved “Elvis Evolution” merchandise including “uniquely Elvis” items beyond hoodies, T-shirts and other basics.

“At something like ‘Van Gogh,’ you might be watching something, within our experiences, you are part of it. You aren’t seeing the story. You are part of the story. That’s really transportive. You are going on a physical journey as you go through space and time in various chapters,” McGuinness says.

An image from the Elvis archive - undated - credit Elvis Presley Enterprises LLC

“Elvis Evolution” aims to offer a more all-around view of Elvis Presley beyond his fame.

An image from the Elvis archive – undated – credit Elvis Presley Enterprises LLC

Scents will trigger changes in scenery, whether that be in Tupelo, Miss., or Memphis. The aroma changes accordingly with rural farmland scents planned for his hometown.

Needless to say, many members of the Layered Reality team touched down at Graceland and had VIP access to some of the private archives for an exclusive view. The trove has been so fastidiously kept that there are receipts for roadside diners. McGuinness said, “The thing about this experience is that we kind of think that we know everything about Elvis. But we don’t really know that much about him as a man, a human being or a person — what he went through, his vulnerabilities, his highs, his lows. There’s been an awful lot obscured by history.”

Meaning that his life has been reduced to his music and drug problems?

McGuinness says, “There are some tropes, if you like, that are reeled out about Elvis. Sometimes they are about his issues. The more eclectic memory of Elvis is of his Vegas years more so than his incredible ascendancy more in his later years.

“What we really want to bring to life is how this guy being born in a small Mississippi town with a really tough background could even dream of being what he ended up being. That kind of arc feels very contemporary — you can be what you dream. Elvis actually was that in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s.”

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