Thursday, June 14, 2007

Virtual actors

Tom Charity wrote:
"At a time when Celine Dion can sing a duet with Elvis Presley on prime time, Gerald Butler can battle it out with 'uber immortals' and a reanimated Laurence Olivier can co-star with Jude Law, will authenticity come to seem out-moded, or more important than ever?"

Yes, it'll be interesting to see what Hollywood films will be like in 20 years. Right now I am at the point where I don't even think to speculate whether action scenes are physical or CG or miniatures. It's impossible to tell, and I don't really care. Will the same be true of actors soon? I don't see why not. And does that matter much, except to the actors? Is Toy Story II less art because no flesh was filmed?


Anonymous said...

"Is Toy Story II less art because no flesh was filmed?"

If we set aside the amazing work of the artists and technicians in such a GCI movie, the voice-speakers made some important acting work, too. Tim Allen or Tom Hanks weren't hired just for their names. It feels in the movie.
Not to mention their facial expressions were liberally used to animate the virtual characters.

The way I see it, being an actor will become less and less a physical beauty requirement following the current canon trends. Which means there'll be more room for genuine talent.
Heck, being a photo model today has very little to do already with how one TRULY looks on film, right?

I've seen what prowesses some good professional impersonators can do with their voice. In the manner of Robin Williams. This man has talent, and got what he deserved for it. Nanoo-nanoo, Rob rocks!

I'm also anticipating the nearing day when CGI will be so mainstream, realistic and cheap, that pronographic actors will be a thing of the past. I mean, somewhere, I feel it'll help human dignity. Starting with the end of professionally-required breast implants.

I genuinely liked the "special" options available to adults in Star Trek's holo-suites. This futuristic utopia seems to have eradicated the need for non-virtual prostitution. Not a substitute for genuine relations with a living loving partner, but definitely a social improvement.
I hope.

In any case, these are intersting times. My kid nephew played a videogame today, of a beach ball rolling on mazes floating in space (Kula World, PSOne). Will he one day be able to picture his uncle growing up when Pong wasn't invented yet? I doubt it. I have a hard time picturing my parents growing up when there were no animated cartoons, and no TV. (It was a huge event when my father's rich neighbors bought the first radio set in the village!!!)
Pretty images are here to stay. When I see Scrat ending the Ice Age with an acorn, I consider this a good thing.

Interestingly, I've bought the Tron DVD, and with merely improved image sharpness, this retro precursor still looks very nice, with cubic monsters, Master Control and all.
Geez, to think each of the sci-fi scenes' images had to be colored one by one, by hand! I tip my hat to the flamboyantly bold makers of this mad marvel.
The Jack Sparrows of movie computer pirates. ;-)

What Hollywood films will be like in 20 years? No mortal can foresee it. Every five years or so, console game graphics awe me with their sudden progress. (It's something of a pity that PC graphics evolve constantly, because the user doesn't truly feel the great improvements.)

I'm planning on watching Final Fantasy: Advent Children some day soon. The Spirits Within was already ground-breaking, even with the slightly stiff and cold virtual characters.
Something which motion and facial capture must've eradicated by now, if there's the slightest will.

Art? We knew it would become hi-tech. But it's here to stay. Grow and multiply, baby! Let there be light coming from my hi-def video-projector.

Alex said...

It's interesting wondering when there will be a switch over. I've already been toying with how you could make virtual actors. The visual quality is one thing, the other is how it sounds. For now it seems that a CGI character takes many actors to produce it on screen. There are typically 2-5 voice artists, one for each language, there is the animator, with possibly different assistants for texture. There is also the motion actors who carry out the action scenes for them to be digitized (Appleseed and Titanic). Indeed Titanic showed how 2 or extras could provide the hundreds on deck of the CGI model as it left the port.

I worked out that what you want is an agency where you can provide the basic characters, you'll have voices and bodies in your library. I figured that rather than create a new virtual actor each time, you'd use parameters applied to the main design, you could vary head to torso ratio to go from chibli to human, you could age, rend to any level of detail you require, and as for adding or losing 50lbs or 6", well Kelly Lebrock's character in Weird Science.

Advent Children was a treat to watch, leaing Kaeena and Spirits Within miles behind. I just couldn't engage in the plot - I was in an unreceptive mood though.

Even with CG bodies and voices, there is still art in the direction. You need someone to place the lighting, you need the story to be written, the character will get it perfect as scripted, but someone has to be happy with how it's scripted. Directors won't have to put up with improvising, petulent, premadonnas any more.

Is a painting painted by one artist less art than a mural painted by 10 artists? If a photographer puts a photo through photoshop, is the result any less art?

Anonymous said...

I agree that Toy Story and other CG films are art and often very good, but I don't think they'll ever completely replace human actors. To me, that'd be like computers taking the place of instruments in music. I think people crave a human element to art, and all CG all the time would take that away in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I am virtually rich: I have lots of virtues. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the technology advance far enough that they could make new episodes of original series Trek, putting perfect copies of the young Original Series actors in new situations, with modern computer-generated sets and special effects...

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I suspect they could do that now. Might be expensive and imperfect, but I think they could.

Anonymous said...

They could try it now but it would probably end up looking not much better than Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within from a few years back. It would be better to wait until it could be done flawlessly.