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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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Terminator Salvation

Nothing to do with the metaverse or the forseeable future, but still one I'm looking forward too.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Quantum of Solace in Twinity

Just when I was about to switch off my pc and go to bed, an email came in which I'd like to share. It's a mailing by Twinity on a promotional action for the latest James Bond movie. Go check it out at Twinity.

Click Image for large version

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Friday, January 18, 2008

The Last Legion

Today no Second Life for me, but for the first time in ages another night on the couch watching a movie. This time it was The Last Legion, a motion picture about the Goths invading Rome and the child emperor fleeing to Brittanica, seeking the Last Legion; the 9th, stationed at Hadrian's Wall.

It was not a historical accurate movie, but a very entertaining prequel to the Arthur Saga. Probably the most entertaining part to watch was the Indian warrior, Mira (Aishwarya Rai)... Sorry, can't help it.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

CSI (5) The Aftermath

It's saturday night. Just a few days ago we were all watching the grid with great anticipation to see what would be the outcome of the first CSI:NY goes Second Life show. There's many blogs out that that voice an opinion, but I'd pick out Ambling in Second Life over almost any other blog.

Here's Aleister's views:

As the hubbub starts to subside on the whole CSI:NY thing, I thought I would record some of the stuff that’s been rattling around in my head over the last few days.

My first reaction when I read all the hullabaloo coming out of the Virtual Worlds Conference was: “Meh.” However, folks with a far keener interest and knowledge of the entertainment and media industry were at pains to assure me that this was groundbreaking stuff, and that is was “game changing.” I thought I should wait and see. The impression given was that this represented a real leap forward in the pursuit of convergent media, and is the way of the Future. To quote Mr Zuiker, proud owner of the CSI franchise: “What’s the future of television? It is as follows: TV, online, mobile, and gaming.”

As for Linden Lab, CEO Phil Rosedale’s take, as quoted at Ugotrade was: “I think it is a great project. We don’t look for traffic for Second Life in general we more look for opportunities to present Second Life to people in a more obvious way to people who don’t understand it, or haven’t experienced it.”

So… a major leap in convergent media – and good exposure for Linden Lab.What could possibly go wrong?

The big risk we all knew about was grid overload, but so far (touch wood) this has not happened, in part because the invasion of newcomers simply has not happened on anything like the anticipated scale.

However, what I think has gone wrong is, frankly, the whole shebang. What I’ve noted, rather than a magical blending and blurring of the lines between reality and virtuality, is simply the co-opting of Second Life to act as a games
platform. A role for which it is particularly inappropriate – and for which CSI has no need, since such platforms exist already. Now, I’m not trying to be precious about SL here. In the whole wide metaverse there is clearly a large need for entertainment and, indeed, for gaming. But to be blunt, Second Life cannot offer the level of gameplay that seasoned gamers have good reason to expect.

And this leads to my next point. TV is an illusion, where it is necessary to tweak reality (and in this case, virtuality) in the interests of entertainment. CSI was not out to make a documentary about Second Life, and was bound to present it in a way designed to extract the maximum entertainment value. And this has led to 2 basic lies. First, that the Second Life virtual world is smooth, fast and beautifully detailed. This would be fine if newcomers weren’t then invited to come and try it out. The gulf between the TV version and the horribly laggy, grey, slow-rezzing virtuality cannot, to my mind, be called
“good exposure for Second Life”. The second lie is that Second Life is a sleazy game, populated by players. This lie was not necessary to the plot, and is the one with which I have the single biggest issue.

In common with many of the readers of this blog, I spend a great deal of time in Real Life extolling the features and benefits of Second Life and virtual worlds in general. Through this one piece of unnecessary scripting I feel like I’ve been thrown back a year in my own evangelising efforts; back to the days of: “Second Life? It’s just a game isn’t it? Full of sleazeballs and geeks.”
Again, how this view of Second Life can be viewed as “good exposure” I am at a loss to explain. This might also explain the less-than-impressive uptake of new accounts.

On a lighter note – I was tempted to call this piece: CISCO:NY. As I have mentioned previously, the grossly over-the-top “Ciscofication” was – to me at least – a complete turn-off.

I think Linden Lab have done themselves no favours here. It is not true that “all publicity is good publicity.” I am dismayed at the short-termism shown by Linden in going along with this farrago. Also, in handing over the source of the viewer to Electric Sheep we have the interesting situation where the open source code has been re-skinned, a few neat, new features added, and the whole thing seemingly locked up again as a proprietary product. Well that’s what I think.

So what did I get wrong?

The ciscofication maybe was a bit over the top, but here in Europe with tv stations like the BBC and public broadcasting companies in the Netherlands we do have a slightly different opinion of such blunt advertising. But seriously,

There's several blogs that have been negative over the amount of traffic generated by the CSI show. Well, it was aired in different timezones, people came in in several runs. And in the days after. True enough, these 16 million viewers didn't push the SL headcount from 9 to 10 million overnight, but it's too early to tell. There's a lot of speculation on how many came in. Prokovy Neva states (on the first timezone run):

"But the numbers of people on those sims, for the three
hours I watched them before, during, and after the CSINY show, couldn't have beat 5,000 concomittant, and no more than 20,000 max total arrivals. In fact, it's probably far lower."

For exact numbers we either have to wait for CSI or the Electric Sheep Company to come with traffic stats and onRez viewer downloads and compare them to next weeks' Headcount by Tareru Nino. I do believe though that the average number of concurrent logins is higher these days. I'm not saying it was a smashing success. The massive number of islands, the fuzz upfront made us expect a lot. Again, too early to tell. There may well be ROI's made, but not sure which. I hope it'll continue though. Haven't had time to start solving the murder yet, but I for one like the concept. Me liking something isn't a guarantee that it'll make you millions though.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

CSI hits Second Life.


Yesterday I shortly blogged on the new Electric Sheep Company project. Today the Second Life Insider blogged this to. The project involves a collaboration with CSI, the world's number one television show.

One of the keynote speakers of the Virtual World Conference was Anothony Zuiker, creator of CSI who told us more on the project. On october 24th CSI New York will submerge into Second Life, with Gary Senise chasing the murder suspect into Second Life. This airing will get Second Life into the homes of 16 million viewers.

This broadcast will get a follow up on february 6th 2008. It calls for action, you can join the CSI team and solve the crime. Zuiker sees virtual worlds as the next level of entertainment which will be cross platform in the future. "After 9/11 the world changed. Insecure teenagers started looking for communitieds and businesses started to think cross platform," he said. This cross platform operation started for CSI with viewer interaction by using cell-phones, now it will get multi-platform with Second Life stuff, inworld gaming and blogging. There will be a regular Murder of the Month blogpost by Anthony and you have to finish it.This will put on heavy strain on Second Life, calling for performance on the 24th. Let's wait and find out what the limit of concurrent log-ons will be.

Here a screenshot of the episode that will air on the 24th:

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Æon Flux

Yesterday, after finishing Neuromancer I had to blow of some steam and watched the Æon Flux dvd with Mrs. V.
Æon Flux is the main character of this story, played by Charlize Theron and is largely about a Utopia gone wrong (i.e. dystopia)

The plot is very basic; The world is destroyed (in 2011) and only 1% of humanity survives in the city of Bregna. The city is being led by the Goodchild dynasty for 400 years and it's about 2400 when the people of Bregna start to revolt. At least, a small group called the Monicans. Aeon is sent on a mission to kill dr. Trevor Goodkind and they fall in love, and save the world.

Well, actually, there's a bit more to it (but don't wanna put up the spoilers), making it a good watch after all.

The movie is not an original, but an adaptation of the original animation series that aired on MTV in the early 90's

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Transformer Barricade

Late last night (European Standards) Liam Kanno of the V3 informed me that the new Transformer avatar Barricade was out. When looking at the map I noticed the new avatar was in popular demand as the sim was filled to the brim.

Thanks to Liam I got my copy through express delivery.

The Transformer sim is a coproduction of V3 group and the Picture Production Company which I've blogged extensively last month.


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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Transformers Exclusive

SundayI blogged on the arrival of the Transformers into Second Life as part of Paramount Pictures campaign to promote the new Transformer movie.

Tonight Liam Kanno of the V3 group was kind enough to give me a personal guided tour of the Transformer sim at Sector 7.

"This build was done by 12 members of the V3 Group team for the Picture Production company, for Paramount Pictures and took 2.5 weeks to complete. The day after the V3 Group completed the Die Hard 4 sim we moved on to this build."

Again we started on top of the dam, which is based on the Hoover dam in Nevada and sector 7 concept in the movie.

"We decided to used the default setting of the sim (The cloud cover) to mask the views since we couldnt create all of Hoover dam, we felt the fog and mist will help create a mood."

The build is impressive and complicated, nearly using all available prims. Was it just a coincidence that they’ve managed the build, or was it pre-planned, I asked.

"One of the tricky aspects of this build is when Paramount makes some of their pictures there is no master over arching seemless plan of layout... i.e. they would film the top of the dam and film the stairway scene in Hollywood and the elevator scene perhaps somewhere else and. yes. during the Bumbleebe Avatar contruction, we had to build that on one of our other sims but otherwise it was well planned.”

Through good cooperation with Paramount V3 managed to put it together in 2.5 weeks but
“In terms of the movie translation to 3d. when it comes to making a movie process seemless in 3-D there are alot of gaps therefore we have to use alot of creative licence to fill in the blank spots and get it approved by paramount. As we received assets from ILM and Paramount we got more accurate, but never had to do a rework. The discussion was mainly about... "How will the rooms be layed out., or how will we solve Bumblebees 16 foot height issue." and how do we put more emphasis on the Megatron room.”

The Megatron room is the press room where the movie junket with Michael bay and 4 of the other main talenSt from the movie took place (prerecorded interview can be seen on Megatron itself is a little different from the original cartoon.

“yes, quite, we put quite a bit of emphasis on creating mood with sound . We had several builders in here create parts ranging from pumps to Megatron sculpties, to structures etc. The majority of it was orchestrated by Kelly Emms the V3 Producer.
Building megatron in SL is almost insanity due ot his organic design. We had to do a combination of 2d art with sculpties, and basic prims to give the presence of him and we put more emphasis on mood and lighting then hyper accuracy. Due to the time constraint we had to focus more on the mood but if we had an extra week. we would have finished him as a full prim sculpture.”

One of the hottest items in the build is the Bumblebee avatar freebee.

“We feel that the sim is just an anchor to a marketing campaign, but the Avatar is the viral aspect. Bumblebee was the first robot seen in the movie, and had the most human likeness. We are working on other avatars at the moment. Avatars are excellent marketing tools in SL since they spread quickly across sims.”

One of the hardest thing to put into perspective was the all-spark cube;

”The allspark cube was the most tricky since we recieved assets 1.5 weeks into the build and we saw that the allspark cube was huge in the movie which we could not recreate in SL since we try to keep certain builds within 64 meters so all parts draw in at the lowest setting so in order for us to make this space appear much larger, we made all the objects in this room 1/4 scale.”

There are a number of rooms inside the build that do not fulfill a utilitarian need, but help to create mood and give the impression of the movie. As the Picture Production company puts heavy emphasis on the "art of the film".

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Transformers launch in Second Life

Early june I reported that there weren't enough bots in Second Life as it is. After the copybots and landbots Hollywood thinks it's time Second Life sees the Autobots and Decepticons coming. Hollywood kindly asked me to hold my thoughts for a while, but now it's an official release.

The moviepromo is build by Silverscreen (who are also responsible for Die Hard 4 and a few other goodies) and is build in the sim Sector 7. It's an enormous build and they had less than 400 prims left when they'd finished.

The first pic is a Bumblebee avatar, though contrary to the original series it ain't a beetle, but it's a real American Chevy (must be a sponsor thingy). The second one is Megatron captured in the deeps of this huge build.

The build is actually a sort of double-decker sandwhich with dark sci-fi autobot HQ looks at the bottom with lots of tunnels, (press) rooms and such. The top level is the more cityscaped area with a huge dam - a centerpoint in the upcoming movie.

I was planning to say something sentimental on the Transformers, but it would be a copy of Moo Money's remarks at the Second Life Insider, so here's her view:
"I'm not much of an action fan, but Transformers is a throwback to my childhood, so it's a must see for me. When the time came, Maxwell Lisle appeared to moderate the event and the journey began. First up were Michael Bay, executive producer of the film, and Lorenzo di Bonaventura, producer. After that, some of the cast members were interviewed, including Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, and Tyrese Gibson. The film premieres on July 2nd, so don't miss it!"

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Hollywood bots to invade Second Life

Last week we saw Bruce Willis (in some blogs said to be Yippie Kay Ay, or others as Bee Dub) come to Second Life to promote his new movie, Die Hard 4 (blogged here).

Hollywood now has a turn on on Second Life and has decided that Second Life needs more bots. After copybots and landbots and tons of other not so nice spiderthings Second Life is heading for the Autobots and Decepticons as Silverscreen is prepping the SL entrance of the Transformers movie.

update 11 june 2007

It seems I was a little ahead of the official press. I've been kindly asked to hold down on this post for a while.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Die Hard 4

Last night saw the opening of Bruce Willis' Die Hard 4 representation in Second Life.
When I got home it was quite late and decided to take a look, but couldn't get in. The sim was filled to the brim with 58 residents present for the opening, so I decided to take a raincheck.

I would expect this build to be done by one of the big content creators, like ESC or MoU, but it's build by the V3 group, who also owns and operates Sillicon Island and were the producers of the International Technology Expo of 2007 event.

The sim has a nice feel to it, set up from a central dome with auditorium and infostands bridges lead to four platforms displaying props and scenes from the movies.

According to Liam Kanno from the V3 group, Bruce Willis was about an hour late for the opening, but hung around for nearly an hour as well to chat with the visitors.


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RL stuff

Well, today no blog on Second Life. Sometimes it's time to enjoy Real Life as well. Tonight was a night on the town with Mrs. V. Pirates of the Caribbean III was certainly a good laugh.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Paul Verhoeven exclusive

Triggered by the audition series I blogged about yesterday, I went in and had a quick look. Various virtual actors and actresses came by to perform a scene from the movie. After the first night of the auditions I had an exclusive interview with Paul Verhoeven, one of Hollywoods great directors.

VeeJay: Very kind of you to drop in at our island and take the time to answer some questions
Paul Verhoeven: : No problem, that’s the great thing about this environment. You can take time for a conversation and it doesn’t cost you too much trouble
VeeJay: This SL gig is about promoting your movie Blackbook?
Paul Verhoeven: : yes, it is
VeeJay: Don't you think using the Drop Zone will make it an exclusively Dutch event? How about promoting the movie in other countries?
Paul Verhoeven: : We wanted to do something creative to draw attention to the DVD release
VeeJay: only for the Netherlands?
Paul Verhoeven: : this is only for the dutch DVD release
Paul Verhoeven: : we didn't want it to get too big, because we didn't know if it would work yet
VeeJay: Did you enjoy your first virtual auditions?
Paul Verhoeven: : yes, I think it went quite well
Paul Verhoeven: : more people showed up for the first evening than I had imagined
VeeJay: and how about the quality of acting? considering of course, we are limited still in our movements in SL
Paul Verhoeven: : some people take it very serious. It surprised me a bit
VeeJay: more seriously than you yourself?
Paul Verhoeven: : When you visit a SL party, you get the idea everyone is more or less making a fool of themselves
VeeJay: sounds you're experienced
Paul Verhoeven: : I walked around for a while before we tried this
Paul Verhoeven: : With another avatar of course
VeeJay: I can imagine
VeeJay: With movies Like Total Recall and Robocop, you’ve probably got a long record with computer animation. What makes Second Life different?
Paul Verhoeven: : Well, I don't see any Hollywood films appearing from SL anytime soon
Paul Verhoeven: : It's the easy acces and streaming technology that's interesting
Paul Verhoeven: : consider doing auditions like this in a real-world promotion
Paul Verhoeven: : it would be very expensive and timeconsuming
VeeJay: I can imagine, perhaps the same will count for making first draft versions of movie sets?
Paul Verhoeven: : yes, that might be useful too
VeeJay: have you got any plans to use Second Life more often for promotions and auditions like this?
Paul Verhoeven: : that hasn't been decided yet
Paul Verhoeven: : this is sort of a pilot
Paul Verhoeven: : if it's succesful, perhaps we'll do more
VeeJay: okay, one last for the sake of the community, did you like working with the guys from Lost in the Magic Forest? I know Dobre has got some movie experience. Did it show in their professionalism?
Paul Verhoeven: : yes, they worked very hard to get this event finished in time
Paul Verhoeven: : And I'm very pleased with the results
VeeJay: Thank you for your time, and I wish you good luck for the remainder of the auditions and the release of Zwartbook
Paul Verhoeven: : thank you
Paul Verhoeven: : I hope the next few days will be as interesting as today
Paul Verhoeven: : Ad I think the auditions will only get better
VeeJay: we'll see. I'll keep an eye at the DropZone traffic rates ;)

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Fox Atomic

Fox Atomic has transferred the stereotype hollywood moviestudio into the Metaverse.
Though the Holleywood studios in Real Life (meatspace) are a sight to see, I must admit the lone studio in typical bunker style on this sim doesn't transfer the same feeling. A small ticket area looks nice, but misses context as well.

The sim is mainly used for streaming movietrailers and setting up decorums of their new series.
The 28 weeks later decor of the houses of parliament is a nice trick, but Fox has done little effort to create an innovative experience.

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