The Gollum technology exists. What will Hollywood do with it now?

The year is 1991. Terminator 2 has hit the screens and the word on everybody’s lips is “morph.” (Yeah, it’s the wrong word to use, but you can’t stop it now.)

Less than two years later the technology is everywhere. I remember seeing a coffee machine morph into a packet of Folger’s Instant Coffee Grit and thinking that the End was near.

Now the year is 1996. Everyone is talking about The Mummy and the impressive sandstorm effects. There’s a face in there, look.

These days we see sandstorm effects in car commercials.

All right. Now it’s today. (Unless you’re reading this tomorrow, in which case, it’s today yesterday.) The combination of motion-capture and animation has brought to life Gollum, a very realistic diminutive CGI figure being controlled largely by the movements of a trained actor. It is now possible, in short (ha!), for an actor to play against his physical type, to bring to life a character on-screen that is nothing like himself.

What is Hollywood going to do with this technology?

I’ll tell you what I’d like to see: a small actor (Dustin Hoffman, for instance) playing a six-foot-tall blonde-haired Viking. A black actor could play a white character. A male actor could possibly play a female character. You know, something that would enable an actor to play completely against type.

Unfortunately, what I think we’ll get is a mo-cap Teddy Ruxpin doing a tap dance while hawking laundry detergent.

William Shatner could play a TOS era Kirk on the ENT ep he is to be in, instead of the sure to be lame use we’ll see from Bergama. (Yeah, time travel will have to be used, one way or another, in either scenario.)

Coto!? You listening?

Michael Jackson could play a real boy.

Willy Nelson and Usher could switch roles in a new music video.

We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first CGI man. Who will be that man? Better than he was before, Stronger, faster…

I think we will not need actors much anymore, basically. Not for effects-driven flicks, anyway. If they manage to finally get skin and hair right, the sky’s the limit.

I doubt we’ll use many totally synthetic actors. Instead, as you allude to, we’ll resurrect dead actors, or sample living actors in their prime and recycle them as needed. Occasional re-sampling will take place as technology improves, but eventually humans will be phased out of the visuals, except to serve as physical templates. Characterization will be much harder to synthesize, so maybe you’ll still have voice and acting talent fleshing out the pretty models on the most of the time screen, a la Monsters Inc.

Maybe, in 100 years, a “movie” (or whatever medium people will go to see at the cineplex) using live human actors will be a cool retro trend.

I dunno, Loopydude. For a long number of years I imagine actors will still be indispensible. The mo-cap-CGI blend will still be used for unique situations and odd characters or gimmick movies (SEE Eddie Murphy play a WHITE man, ho ho!, watch Freaky Friday 3 with one actor mo-capping the other’s physical body, etc).

For most applications, there’s still no substitute for human movement. Our eyes are highly adept at picking out artificial-looking motion.

Fifty years from now, maybe. In the distance I see a video-based equivalent to MIDI (musical instrument digital interface). In the future, VIDI would enable you to obtain the script and basic blocking for a movie and insert your own actors. (Gone With The Wind, starring Vin Diesel.) Maybe a musical algorithm scheme could capture the “technique” of a guitar player like Eric Clapton and you can imagine the 12/8 blues version of “Everybody Dance Now” as done by him.

Actors aren’t going anywhere for a long time. Actors are cheaper. For one thing, when you hold auditions, you don’t get animators turning up to work for free in the same quantities as you now find actors.

Preciousss. Those pervy hobbits won’t get away now.
Gollum was cool and so was Dobby (despite what Stinker thinks), but then again there is Jar Jar. I don’t think human actors in mainstream movies will be going anywhere for awhile. Um, yeah, what Fish said.

I would like to see Jar Jar sell Red Stripe beer though. Itsa the best. Mesa like the smooth taste. Red Stripe. HOORAY BEER!

The technology is nowhere near perfect; we have a long way to go before we can dispense with actors.

You’ll notice that all the most successful animated characters have been non-human; the attempts at humans still don’t scan perfectly. There’s been no single CGI human that has fooled anyone for a moment, so it’ll be a while before the non-animated Oscars are eliminated.

Yeah, but if you look at where CGI was ten years ago, and you see where it is now, throw in a little Moore’s Law…I’d be willing to believe in ten years or so we’ll have sythetic people on screen that will be very convincing.

There were a few moments in that Final Fantasy movie where I couldn’t tell the difference. They were brief moments, but it seems to me that the tech is maybe within reach. Perhaps it’s the skill to use the tech to make to make it more convincing that’s lacking. In other words, talent of the people making the movie, and not CPU power.

Yep. That was a crappy flick, but there were moments of breathtaking realism. I have to imagine with all these Gollum’s and Jar Jar’s, and Aki’s roaming around, not only is the processing power increasing exponentially, but the programmers and artists are starting to get the hang of simulating skin, hair, eyes, facial expressions, and so on.

In the end, it will not only be the tools, but the artists who help transform the synthetic actor into something convincing, and their skills are improving swiftly as well.

Nobody is denying that the technology will one day be capable of realism, Loopydude. At the moment, authentic real humans can be had for a much cheaper price tag than genuine realistic ones. Until it’s cheaper to generate human images digitally, the technology will be reserved for unique and (dare I repeat myself) gimmicky movies.

I was just wondering what kind of movies those would be.

I guess movies like “Final Fantasy”, at first. It will be a total gimmick.

But say, someday, somebody wants to continue the Star Wars trilogy of trilogies, Episodes VII, VIII and IX. Maybe the film could have flashbacks to the days of the reestablishment of the Jedi knighthood (or whatever it is). Trouble is, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fischer are all octigenerians or whatever. No problem! You’ve got plenty of video and sound to sample. Voila! Luke Skywalker, circa 1983, is bouncing Han Solo and Lea’s baby on his knee and bragging about what a great Jedi his nephew will make. Then we can flash forward to the boy and Unca Luke sparring with light sabers or whatever, then finally the boy is grown up, and maybe some recent footage of Mark Hamill can be used, where Jedi Master Luke gives him his Jedi stripes or whatever they do to induct new Jedi Knights.

It could be real actors interacting with other real actors who have CGI actors painted over them, just like Jar Jar or Gollum was today. Only these will be convincing-looking human characters, sampled from real actors, in scenes one wishes they could shoot, but never could before. That’s how it probably will start.

Eventually, one can phase out the flesh-and-blood actors entirely for some scenes. Maybe even the whole movie, in some cases.

We’ll use it to have Gollum selling Coke and dancing with vaccums, even long after Sirkis’ death. (“Always Coca-Cola, precious!”)

Eventually, Jim Henson studios will use the technology to make CGI versions of existing muppets.

Maybe someone will finally try to re-create a dead actor (John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, etc,), using the CGI and a good voice impersonator, to star in a new movie. However, the initial attempts at this won’t be very successful, because the movies themselves turn out to be lousy anyway, and riding solely on the gimmick.

In what sense is a technology that helps to further expand the Star War’s franchise a good thing?!

Here’s what I think we could get: Martian Manhunter: The Movie.

Who said anything about whether it is good or not?