Monday, January 12, 2009

Virtual Actors replace Humans in Hollywood?

If you run a movie studio and run short of money to hire a hot shot actor for a couple of million dollars, you can always have a few cartoonists draw in a funny character and you'll get something like "Who framed Roger Rabbit"

If you've got some extra bucks to throw in, you can use several advanced techniques to create stunning special effects and you get Terminator III", or "Lord of the Rings""and every one gets wowy and throws in a few Oscars. In short, the business has come a long way since the cheap B-movies of the 80's dealing with virtual reality. But is the industry ready for a next leap? The technology to pull it of is in our hands now.

Robert Scoble just wrote an interesting blog about this (with videos):

One of the most interesting conversations I had at the Consumer Electronics Show last week was with Charlie Boswell of AMD. He works with movie companies to implement the data centers that they need to build movies of the future and he told me about this new technology, called “Light Stage” which lets movie companies capture human actors and then change their images into software-controlled “virtual actors.”

Until now this technology looked cheesy. But no longer. You probably have already seen virtual actors in movies and haven’t realized it (all done with Light Stage).

Here’s the two videos so you can see how movies are changing.

  1. Charlie Boswell, who has the coolest job at AMD, working with movie studios to make special effects where he talks to me about what he’s working on and tells me about Light Stage. If you are into movies, he talks to me about a bunch of movie houses and how they are using technology.
  2. Jules Orbach, CEO of Light Stage/OTOY, showing me some clips of what these virtual actors can do. He was also up on stage during the AMD keynote and Barron’s Online has a live blog of that. On stage AMD and OTOY announced they were working on the fastest supercomputer ever.

Anyway, it’s interesting to see how technology continues to change our movies. Boswell blows my mind when he says this technology will soon be affordable for everyone (soon being years, not decades).

Are you ready?

Are we ready? Yes, but it needs to be a way lot better then the Second Life adventures of CSI for instance.

Are we ready? Well, we're constantly being fooled by Hollywood so what's the big difference? If we take this step it's a bit like "S1m0ne" come true, the film with Al Pacino who fools the world with a virtual actress, or on the darker side a Robert DeNiro movie "Wag the Dog" where he also plays a Hollywood director staging a fake war to help the president get reelected.

UPDATE: Afterthought

As an afterthought...

Are we ready? Yes we're gonna take it hook line and sinker. We even get fooled with virtual actors in virtual worlds! In april 2007 world famous Director Paul Verhoeven held virtual auditions inside Second Life for his movie Zwartboek II. Afterwards I did an 'exclusive interview' with this tech savvy Director who was of the opinion that Virtual Worlds would certainly have added value to Moviemaking.

I didn't disclose this earlier, but soon afterwards I found out that although it was an official Zwartbook promotion, Paul Verhoeven never came near to watching the actual auditions let alone immerse himself into Second Life. Talking about virtual actors taking over...

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Blogger Digado said...

Sounds like we're going towards 'the Diamond Age's ractors ;) Virtual, interactive live actors - add 'user generated' virtual actors and there's your concept of a virtual world/game again. Roleplay games/area/sims are 'virtual actors' participating in 'the movie' - the setting.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 9:38:00 AM  
Blogger VeeJay Burns said...


Thanks for pointing that out. Neil Stephenson's Diamond Age is a fitting story. I've blogged on that particular book sometime last year as well.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Jessica Ruggles said...

Questioning the preparedness of the public while providing information on the breakthrough in technology is such an interesting way to look at computer generated images and characters in films. Though it could be the next step for the film industry, I feel like the argument for Hollywood to tackle such a challenge still is weak. Yes, as Robert Scoble pointed out in his blog and various videos, the technology is available. But that doesn’t necessarily means it will be used, particularly in the creation of an entire cast worth of actors. Putting monetary amounts for a project such as a complete CGI cast movie aside, I think that one of the biggest upsets Hollywood studios would face by taking this next step into a world of computer generated actors through motion capture technology is the Screen Actors Guild. As an article from Associated Content on the topic of replacing actors with CGI points out, “the Screen Actors Guild is a union… formed to make sure that pressure could be applied to Hollywood if the people working on a movie were to be treated unfairly.” Even if CGI characters in films do begin to replace actors, there is always a body behind the motion capture, which you fail to mention when citing Lord of the Rings as an example of these special effects.

Another upset that I think may become an issue, which you touched on in your afterthought, is the whether or not people will take films seriously as they begin to delve deeper into CGI characters. Though it was simply used as a promotional gimmick within the world of SecondLife, neither the CSI:NY crossover nor the Zwatboek auditions were taken seriously. With the “uncanny valley” theory looming overhead, do you honestly think that Hollywood and movie buffs are ready for the complete digital transformation of the actor and celebrity as we know them?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 8:58:00 AM  
Anonymous external hard drive said...

Virtual Actors: This is the final frontier in 3D animation, and really what everyone is trying to achieve. While we are still a ways off from creating a lead actor that looks entirely real, virtual extras have been around for quite some time. In Titanic, 3D characters played a major part in the camera fly-overs of the ship, in which all of the people walking on deck were entirely animated.

Friday, September 25, 2009 7:44:00 AM  

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