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Brave new world

My wife and I were watching "3:10 to Yuma" (violent and predictable, but far from the worse we've watched recently) and when we noticed Peter Fonda in the credits, my wife couldn't recognize who he had played. Well, of course he's gotten a bit older over the years, and his role barely mattered anyway, so that wasn't surprising. After we dug back and figured out which character was his, I commented that in a few years we'll probably start seeing computer generated actors resurrect stars of the past.

I didn't realize how close we are to that. So close that there is already a name for it - "synthespians" - and that people doing this kind of work say they are "getting real close".

With all the film stock to draw from, absolute accuracy shouldn't be a problem, even down to the smallest gesture or facial expression. So what happens to the real stars? Maybe they will get paid for the use of their name and likeness, but that won't last: totally artificial actors will replace them and, over time, no one will care. The era of the highly paid Hollywood actor is about to end. Hollywood stars aren't the only ones affected; "extras" have already been pushed out of some films and of course many other small parts will also be replaced by synthespians.

Funny, isn't it: in the science fiction of the past, computers were going to liberate us, relieve us from drudge work, make us all wealthy. While some of that has come true, computers have also widened income disparity, pushing some people out of good paying jobs.

What's next? Music? Some say that's farther away, but I'm not so sure. Combining computer created music with generated pop/rock star idols is a tougher sell, but it could come to pass. Maybe the only safe celebrities are sports stars?

It's a brave new world, isn't it?

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© Anthony Lawrence

Sun Aug 30 16:01:46 2009: 6813   BrettLegree

It is never the technology, but the application of said technology that causes the problems - the intent of the people behind it.

Greed seems to be the big thing, always.

Why are jobs going overseas? Greed.

Why is it that *skilled* jobs are going overseas, leaving only the drudge work here? Greed.

Sun Aug 30 18:26:23 2009: 6814   TonyLawrence

I don't know that this is really greed. I see it as more like railroads replacing wagon trains - inexorable march of technology.

Not that there isn't plenty of greed elsewhere!

Sun Aug 30 18:30:44 2009: 6815   TonyLawrence

I was just thinking: as the stars go, so go Emmy's and all that. It also leaves the tabloids and paparazzi with that much less to work with.

I never liked the Emmy shows anyway :-)

Sun Aug 30 18:38:56 2009: 6816   BrettLegree

I suppose it depends on what happens. If computers are used to replace actors and musicians, will that benefit "real" actors and musicians, or displace them?

I believe it will be the latter - the computer stuff will be cheaper - and that's what I meant by greed. Things should be a lot better than they are for many people because of technology, but they are not, because of greed.

Example: Pfizer developed a vaccine a few years ago against sleeping sickness (from the tsetse fly) - but they will not mass produce it, because they don't feel it is worthwhile (no one will pay what they are asking). They'll say all over their web site that they "care about people" but of course, like all corporations, all they "care" about is money.

(Okay, I don't blame them, I don't always work for free either, because I have to eat, but...)

Sun Aug 30 18:43:29 2009: 6817   TonyLawrence

No, none of work for free entirely, but when we have far more than we need, we can afford to give to others who do not.

Sun Aug 30 18:49:50 2009: 6818   BrettLegree

Exactly! I am trying desperately to have policy changed where I work with respect to old computers. It seems we are on a 3-year upgrade cycle, and the policy is to "destroy" the hard drives and then discard the rest of the PC.

I understand the destruction of the HDD, sort of, though they just don't know how to do a proper wipe, but discarding the rest has something to do with where we get the funding - and it frustrates me.

The disk-less PC's could have new drives installed, or they could be used as PXE booted machines with an LTSP network.

Argh. So much money going to waste, and there are people who have *no* computers even in my own country.

Sun Aug 30 18:49:53 2009: 6819   TonyLawrence

No, it doesn't benefit real actors. Railroads didn't benefit wagon trains and horseless carriages didn't benefit horse folk.

In theory it could benefit the public with lower movie/dvd costs, but it probably won't, so THAT will definitely be greed.

Sun Aug 30 19:59:03 2009: 6820   AndrewSmallshaw

I'm reminded of that joke about one of the Matrix films: there is a particular shot where using the latest CGI techniques they made it appear that Keanu Reeves used a facial expression.

In general though, I am not convinced by this manner of CGI laziness. There are certain effects where it is the only option available, or it may result in better effects - there are limits to what can be done convincingly with models for instance - but it seems that people are now going for CGI when other options are available.

The movie that showed this most in my eyes was Superman Returns. Many effects, particularly the in-flight shots, are entirely CGI generated giving those segments a slightly cartoonish feel. Superman is the kind of thing where you can get away with that feeling, indeed justify it on artistic grounds, but it meant that the transitions between live action and CGI footage were distracting and destroyed any illusion of reality. The net effect is that the Superman films from the late 70's/early 80's that used wires are more convincing than Superman Returns twenty years later.

This is even more pronounced when you compare it to many far eastern films of a similarly recent vintage. The Azumi films come to mind here. In fight sequences there are a lot of flying leaps, aerial somersaults, and similar improbable manoeuvres. A lot of them are done in slow motion for artistic reasons making them even more challenging. Those shots use wire work extensively with CGI cleaning them up afterwards (hiding the wires). The effect is genuinely stunning and it is worth putting up with a subtitled movie just for the absolutely gorgeous visuals.

Thu Sep 3 00:25:51 2009: 6840   Luc

- Do you like our owl?
- Is it artificial?
- Of course it is.
- Must be expensive.
- Very.

Wed Sep 9 00:27:20 2009: 6878   sledge

I missed this when it first got posted but it bears pointing out that this has been tried already. About two years ago, Orville Redenbacher pulled a George Romero:
Ground breaking is right, he looks like a zombie!

Wed Sep 9 00:36:21 2009: 6879   TonyLawrence

It's not that old :-)

Anyway, there's no problem commenting on anything, no matter how old.

Itr's early yet. In a few years you won't be able to tell the difference.

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