Aki Ross

I get made fun of a lot for my faith in the future. My trust that one day, millions of nanobots will be patrolling my body fixing things without me knowing, allowing me to live for several hundreds of years. My hope that when I need it, a cyberknetic arm will be able to replace a useless limb. My joy at the prospect of having neuro-implants that make my brain millions of times faster and capable of holding obscene amounts of memory.

I get laughed at for all of it, but I never get made fun of when those technological advancements have to do with art. It’s for good reason. We like our art to be as realistic as possible without being truly invasive. We enjoy being amazed and returning to the comfort of our own homes. Now there might be a piece of innovation that should make us a little uncomfortable.

A Long Way To Go

You’ve probably already seen the sales pitch from Emily at Image Metrics that’s been blowing up on YouTube. You may also remember it from today’s Officially Cool article — damn you Brian! Anyway, here it is again:

What she represents is another lumbering step into the future of filmmaking, and it’s an exciting new step. Another sign that shows we’ll look back soon at the CGI of the early 2000s and wonder how we were ever so primitive. Plus, it’s an especially welcome sign during the current period of CGI backlash. Perhaps, filmmakers will stop showcasing CGI soon and start utilizing it more at its most effective – when it’s undetectable.

The fine folks at Gawker were right about Emily – I would have asked her out for drinks later. And not in the same way people were claiming we’d all ask Aki from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within out for drinks. Even if the trailer for that film made us question reality, the answer we always came up with was that it was animated. In Emily’s case, there wasn’t even a question. After a few viewings, minor flaws become apparent, but even then, she’s startlingly human.

This innovation is going to cause some problems, though. Or at least make us redefine certain core elements of the filmmaking business.

1. We won’t need actors anymore

This is a giant leap from the starting point, but it’s something that will land squarely on our heads soon enough. If motion-capture technology has the ability to render facial expressions into a database and store them for later use, actors can shift from actually acting to coming in to have their likeness captured to staying at home to sign an e-document allowing a production company to use his or her likeness. Entire films could be made without the star ever leaving Beverly Hills. Studios could own actors and actresses in a whole new way.

Of course, true actors will fight against that development, but those in the business purely for lazy celebrity might embrace the ideal. Of course, at this point the technology only allows for real-time image capturing, so an actor of some kind is still needed. Even at that point, though, a company could buy rights to use Angelina Jolie’s image and have an actress whose last job was a regional Subway commercial come in to twist her face around for the cameras, and voila! Angelina is starring in a new film.

2. Porn is going to become a lot more personalized

This isn’t a problem. It’s widely known that pornography is what usually drives technology in the arts. As this new motion-capture technology becomes less expensive, it could theoretically be utilized by the pornography industry to create personalized scenes. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pornography. If you want a blonde in pigtails, a redhead with freckles or Darth Maul, it could be done. That’s fantastic news for the sexual health of the nation, but it’s also a situation that will lead to a few interesting scenarios. Namely…

3. Your favorite actress and actor will be hacked

This technology sets the stage for visual information to be stored in a database for future retrieval. In moving beyond real-time capture, the specifics of an individual’s face at a certain age could be utilized well into the future. But with every innovation comes those who will exploit it.

The first application that comes to mind is porn. No longer will companies have to wait anxiously for a hot, young starlet to irritate her boyfriend who happens to keep the DVD they made together during Special Time hidden behind his “Seinfeld” box set. Industrious hackers would be able to steal the encoded visual information, and within weeks, viewers could be enjoying hardcore featuring Kristen Bell, Vin Diesel or Bea Arthur. Or all three.

But pornography is not the only rabbit hole, here. Imagine watching a news clip of Conan O’Brien using racial slurs or Lindsay Lohan telling her fanbase that she hates them. This is a new frontier of identity theft. Being able to recreate facial imagery also raises the question of whether what we see is real – just like in the case of Emily. Had that been a video of Paris Hilton, the creators could have made her say anything, and we would have been just as fooled into thinking it was real. If we aren’t totally convinced by Emily today, trust that we will in the future.

4. Your image will be next

The big profit with this technology lies in entertainment, but soon, bored individuals could easily create videos of their friends (or enemies) doing outlandish or embarrassing stuff that never happened. This is fine for the gentleman who wants a videotape of himself making love to Kristen Bell and Bea Arthur (although I won’t even dig into the existential questions that arise from watching yourself do something you never did, let alone the idea of deriving pleasure from it), but it’s not fine for the kid who has to transfer schools because his friends digitally render his face and body to make it look like he’s swinging a broom around in his garage like it’s a lightsaber, and then post it all over the interwebs.

Don’t Hold Your Breath

Luckily, the transition is going to be a slow one. It will be years before any of this is viable in the way that I’m talking about, and the human element will of course fight against it, creating even more drag to an otherwise steady process. Ultimately, we’ll be able to ease into it at our own pace.

Eventually, movies won’t have to be made anywhere. For the right price, a film could just as easily be made on location in Tuscany as it could in a warehouse in Columbus, Ohio. Without a need for actors, there would be no need for green screen. Entire films could be photo-realistically created inside a computer hooked up to a digital storehouse of faces, bodies and locations, and it would be good enough to fall for it.

If it feels like technology is progressing faster, it is. In fact, it’s right on schedule. The diffusions and proliferation of technology, especially in filmmaking, is increasing so quickly that we can now find major flaws in methods that were employed widely just a few years ago. We are already jarred by those capabilities. Go back and watch films from the 1960s and mock how unrealistic their effects feel. Then watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a movie released in 2001, to see how far we’ve come in just seven short years.

The future is going to get here, and Emily is just another reminder that we’re headed in that direction – a direction where we’ll have to question reality even more whether it’s in a darkened theater, in our living rooms, or in our minds.


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