Boiling Point: CG Actors

Well Brian called it. In bringing your attention to this demo video from Image Metrics, which shows off some of the latest in Computer Generated Image detail, he mentioned how people will argue til their blue in the face over this technology’s place in entertainment. Like your cheating spawn camping sniper roommate in a video game, I was quick to jump on this easy kill.

Now, I’ve talked about CGI in general before, but this video focused on recreating a woman’s face and dropping it on her body. Really, it accomplished nothing. Turn off the computer and the woman was right there acting. The computer mimicked her fairly well, with a pretty decent look. Some people may not have been able to even tell the difference, but I think those who have seen a lot of films or CGI or have worked around it could probably pick up the imperfections around the mouth and the somewhat unnatural skin tone blending. You know what would have looked perfect? Dropping the image and watching a cute woman act.

So is this cool? Sure. I’m sure it has some uses. Like Cole Abaius mentioned, porn. He foresees a dark future where computers rule entertainment. Is that going to happen? No. But will more and more films use this technology? Probably. And that’s what pisses me off. Yes, there is an artistic decision to be made, but if I want to see something life like, I’ll just look at life. Why make a perfect simulcast of an actor when the actor is sitting there? Some uses of this type of technology have already happened thanks to, you guessed it, George Lucas. Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) in the latter Star Wars prequels had some freaky shit going on with his head. A computer generated Christopher Lee head was mounted on a body double for some of the fight scenes. Watch a little closer and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Even so, this is perhaps one facet of this technology that might help movies, if the effect can be well blended. Allowing live action stunts to take place without playing “Spot the stuntman.”

Speaking of stuntmen, you may be thinking “Hey, why endanger stunt people when we have this technology?” To that I would direct you to ask a stuntman. Ask him if he’s ready to give up his job and disappear. Stunt guys know the risks and accept them, hell, they celebrate them. Jumping off buildings, crashing cars, that is more than just a job, that’s an adventure that they love to take. This technology, while assuredly expensive, has zero insurance liability. But let’s face it, CGI still sticks out in a real world environment a lot of the time, so our digital stuntmen, for the time being, will still look fake. Why do with a computer what you can do for real? The human eye is very adept at detecting natural versus unnatural movement, so instead of trying to trick it, just show it what it likes.

Cole also mentioned that one day, far in the future, we wouldn’t need actors. Bullshit. Sure, Hollywood might try it, at which point I will rage uncontrollably, but the technology hasn’t perfected the human face or human emotions. Most importantly, in this example, the image is simply mirroring the woman’s real face. It wasn’t created and animated. It was traced. So the actor still needs to come in and put in the performance. It still takes some talent to convey emotions. And even then there is disconnect.

Do we need this technology? Should we embrace this technology? Why the fuck do we need ultra-realistic computer animation? Twenty five years in the future when I’m having virtual sex in a virtual stadium full of virtual Jessica Biel’s cheering me on, sure, maybe I’ll want realism and that’ll be the way to get it. But I like the craft of acting, the thrill of a real person flying through the air. Why fake it when people are ready and willing to do it? I just fail to see the real point in it. I still hate CGI in certain situations, as do many others. This will just be better CGI, but still CGI. And who knows how well this will hold up in execution? It’s one thing with a static shot on set. Take it outisde and have someone dive through shadows and then see what happens.

Maybe I’m off on my own here, maybe this technology will unlock the door of awesome, but maybe, just maybe there is something to the more than 210 110 years of motion picture history that has kept real people as actors and real flesh and blood stunt men bringing the thrills. Call me old fashioned, call me a grump, just don’t call me when this new technology takes over. I’ll be busy watching real people in real movies doing real things. As for now, I’m really past my boiling point.

What are your thoughts on next generation CGI replacing real people?

Robert Fure is many things: horror expert, ruggedly handsome man of the world, witty prose composer, and writer of his own biography page. Beneath the bravado is a scared little boy, ready to grow into an awesome man and make lies about a scared little boy inside of him. Wait a minute...

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