The numbers behind the industry.
ultimate step to eliminate what remains of the distinction
between cartoons and movies is the creation of computer-generated
actors. Video games have already moved in this direction.
In November of 2005, Electronic Arts released a game of
From Russia With Love that employed a digital
clone of Sean Connery as he appeared in the 1963 movie.
Can Hollywood be far behind?
actors—including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, Tom
Hanks, Natasha Henstridge, Tom Cruise, and Denzel Washington—have
been laser scanned or “gone under the beam” to create digital
files that can be used to generate their clones for future
scenes. These could be scenes that they may be unable or
unwilling to perform, or stunts, such as Schwarzenegger
hanging off the back of a truck, that a cast insurer may
prohibit him from doing. Or, stars could be created de novo
as Sony's digital animators did in the case of Aki Ross
in Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within. Aki had enough
sex appeal to earn a slot on Maxim 's 2001 “Hot
100” list (the only nonexistent person to ever appear on
studios, whose main profits derive not from producing unique
films but from creating licensing platforms in the form
of franchises, would clearly benefit from owning cyber-stars
who never age. These stars could be used over and over again
in sequels with, if necessary, digital modifications that
maximized their audience appeal. Their image could also
be licensed without any restrictions to game and toy manufacturers.
And, like actors in the bygone studio system, these cyber
stars would be the studios' indentured chattel, playing
whatever roles they were assigned. The advantage of such
robotic compliancy to a studio was spelled out in Andrew
Nicol's 2002 movie Simone in which a Hollywood
producer-director (Al Pacino), explains that stars have
become a bottleneck in studio production. “We always had
stars but they used to be our stars,” he ruefully complains
to his studio boss. “We would tell them what to do, what
to wear, who to date.” To restore this control, he creates
a computer-generated composite of a star that incorporates
the best features of Marlene Dietrich, Audrey Hepburn, and
Lauren Bacall, and programs the digital file, called Simone,
to do whatever acting he requires.
ago, George Lucas pointed to the theoretical possibility
of generating such cyber stars, saying, “We can make an
animal ...and if you do that, you can make a human,” but
the practical application is still a great challenge. The
issue is not just making a digital clone of a human—as,
for example Robert Zemeckis did in The Polar Express
with state-of-the-art motion capture of Tom Hanks—but
making one that is realistic enough in its movements and
expressions to be indistinguishable from a human (a level
of realism both Final Fantasy and Polar Express
failed to achieve.) In Simone , the computer-simulation
role, which was falsely attributed in the movie's credits
to “Simone,” was actually played by an uncredited human
actress, Rachel Roberts.
recently discussed this issue with Shuzo Shiota, who heads
of one of Japan's most innovative digital animation companies,
Polygon Pictures. Even though his company had posthumously
“digitally reincarnated” a Japanese actor for a video game,
he found the obstacles to creating virtual actors almost
insurmountable. He pointed out that it takes a 90-man team
of modelers, renderers, and animators, many of whom are
versed in human anatomy, neurology, and kinetics, a day
or more to produce just 3 seconds of highly realistic animation.
And even that level of animation can fool an audience for
only a limited time—“10 to 15 seconds”—before the illusion
is shattered. At present, he explains, “The amount of information
that the human expression, skin, and body displays require
is just too huge for CG animators.”
so, while the idea of computer-generated virtual stars is
the dream of many a producer, it may have to await a further
leap in illusion-making technology.
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