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Will Technology Kill Off the Actor?

Simulation Wizardry Could Replace Human Beings in Movies

Anaheim Wax Works Titanic Replica of Simulation - Cliff
As movie-3D on the back of other recent and ongoing technological advances sweeps all before it, are human performers’ days numbered, or is a human actor irreplaceable?

Film-goers expect to enjoy realistic and convincing settings in movies, from wild places to dingy tenements, from outer space to city skylines. all usually real, un-enhanced backdrops. Audiences have grown up with seeing how people interact with and respond to their situations/environments.

The image of the terrified victim in a horror setting, paralysed by fear, the rabbit in the headlights, is not only an abiding memory of virtually everything ever made in the genre, but is what drives horror itself. Whether the unspeakable is a creature (Jaws, King Kong), a natural threat (Tornado, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012) or a person (Cape Fear). It covers the night, the unknown, nightmares, unspecified dangers and hideous deformities, before which our heroes and heroines are transfixed: all need actors to suffer for us.

Actors Representing Humanity

Titanic (although the ship was generated), Saving Private Ryan, The Godfather trilogy, How the West Was Won, for example, all require actors representing humanity to interpret the experiences against big backdrops for us. We are drawn in as if part of the action, chewing over the dilemma, finding the last ounce of moral, physical or emotional strength to overcome and win the day with those nuances of human behaviour that we all share.

Toy Story (1995), A Bug’s Life (1998) and Avatar (2009) allow us to impose human characteristics, emotions and features onto inanimate toys, insects and aliens, so demonstrating again, that people (actors) are as essential now as ever. Even if the actor is a puppet, like Yoda in the Star Wars franchise, by the time of The Phantom Menace (1999), he has become computer generated, but with human voice and characteristics.

Today’s audiences love to see life manipulated – man acrobatically avoiding time-slowed bullets, to name but one example (The Matrix, 1999). Jurassic Park (1993) would not have worked without artificially-generated, believable prehistoric creatures. Nowadays modern monsters, spaceships and wars rely on computer realism. Digital props, weather, crashes, explosions have become the norm.

Nobody Notices When Images Are Faked

The real and the fake interact together – from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) on. Nobody objects – indeed, few notice, when computer gadgetry enhances and reinforces the real world we set our real lives against. Lord of the Rings (2001) creates beautiful scenery and fantasy worlds, but combines them with the skills of real actors.

Hollywood already has the power to make digital doubles of famous, high-class actors. They can also generate totally convincing replicas of actors now dead. They can light them, animate them, reconfigure them, perfect them. Soon, some critics believe, they will add emotion, depth of complexity that makes the human being unique.

For now this motion-capture technology may only be used to reshoot scenes where the actor is no longer available, or make a quick rough-cut film as a pilot. However, it’s only a matter of time before budget constraints lead some executives to think it a good idea to make movies without real, famous (expensive) actors and instead use totally generated, famous actors (cheap).

In a world of physical artificiality, where aging and illness are banished, where everything is controlled by computers and robotics, we may see perfect films. We’ll access movies made by digital animators, computer puppeteers that raise us to the very heights of emotional response, starring every famous performer ever born.

But how will young people learn their acting crafts? Perhaps that will not matter then.

First published at Suite 101, 21 March 2010, deleted by them in a Google algorithm purge January 2012.

Photo: Anaheim Wax Works Titanic Replica of Simulation – Cliff

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