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August 20th, 2008


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03:23 am - Impressive computer animation
Here's an example of a new and seriously impressive type of computer animation. For the last 15 or so years I've been wondering when CGI tech will get to the point of photorealism and we'll have new films with long-dead actors. We're now 98% there. I'm betting it will take a year or two (likely 2) to get the last bugs worked out and 2-3 years to get the costs down. So, in 3-5 years I'm guess that this will start being used by movie studies, and a few years after tat we'll perhaps start seeing "new" James Dean or Audrey Hepburn films.

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Comments:


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From:kiplet
Date:August 20th, 2008 12:50 pm (UTC)
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I dunno; this is just better, less intrusive motion cap, and it seems to sit rather firmly on top of the features of the actual actors being taped. You'd have to have a "mask" of James Dean or Audrey Hepburn sit on top of that performance, and there's still plenty of room for the uncanny valley to creep in and muck that up.

And I'm really tired of the "end of actors" hype being indulged in that piece. End of movie stars, maybe. But the Andy Serkises of the world will have more work than they can shake a stick at.
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From:jake_richmond
Date:August 20th, 2008 03:12 pm (UTC)
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Right. Still plenty of work for real actors. Less work for people who just look good. that's kind of cool.

I always felt like the uncanny valley was a myth. Or that it's real, but it's something that we can obviously overcome. This seems like a step toward that, for better or worse.
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From:heron61
Date:August 20th, 2008 06:52 pm (UTC)
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Right. Still plenty of work for real actors. Less work for people who just look good. that's kind of cool.

Precisely! I'm very much looking forward to just that sort of thing.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:August 20th, 2008 01:06 pm (UTC)
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I cringe, because I can see some poor dead classic star being used in something godawful (Marilyn Monroe being used in some cheap teen sex comedy, for instance).
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From:blue_estro
Date:August 20th, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)
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We can hope the the folks who own the license to those actors will protect their investments wisely and quality check potential image uses.

Admittedly, I am not sure what the full scope of licensing covers, so it may be that as long as the images behave nothing like Marilyn Monroe (or whomever) her face can be used free and clear.

(Microsoft, through a subsidiary media company, owns the rights to Steve McQueen. <sigh> )
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From:aureantes
Date:August 21st, 2008 03:58 am (UTC)
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Yeah.....really, I don't feel that it's ethical, simply because you don't have the original actor's willing participation. If they didn't choose it, then how can it be taken as representative of them and deserving of their reputation? I really don't care who "owns" the "rights" to what actors' likenesses -- if it's a fake it's a fake, imho. Actors are (were/are) people too -- I would rather see a new live actor and see what they bring to their craft, than watch a reconstructed CGI performance that tells me nothing I didn't know before about emotive range (and most likely a good deal less).

The one thing that I would have been curious to see from Marilyn Monroe (but which wasn't permitted then and can hardly happen now without her live acting skills) would have been her as Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov, a role she and Yul Brynner both wanted her to claim, but which the studios (read: "rights owners") forbade as too serious and not part of the modern sexpot image of her that they wanted to maintain. I don't think that anything CGI-masked could ever compare to the projects that actors have definitely wanted to do and been unable to do -- like Lon Chaney Sr. as Dracula, a role he never played due to his death from throat cancer. There is simply no way of recreating the acting range that was never able to be shown in the first place, and those are the things that I regret never seeing in the work of the late and long-past actors I admire.

(And as always, Andy Serkis kicks ass wherever and whatever he is.)
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From:heron61
Date:August 21st, 2008 04:47 am (UTC)
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Your argument makes sense to me if you are talking about a living actor. However, from my PoV, the dead have (and need) absolutely no rights. I don't really see how civil rights should ever possibly apply to the living.
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From:aureantes
Date:August 21st, 2008 05:53 am (UTC)
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Well, I do happen not to live within your PoV, after all...

From my PoV there's more value in mortal individuality than in facsimulated immortality. I basically think of all people, past or present, as if they were living, because I consider them to persist in essence regardless of their physical state of being. Consider it UPG if you like (even though it's shared in tested detail with a fair amount of people), but I know that souls can and do continue beyond/through physical death. Therefore, it would make no sense for me not to consider the persistence and dignity of persons, rather than calculating their rights as persons+personalities to end with death -- much less to be transferred into the hands of license-holders for any/all moneymaking purposes. It's something quite apart from the expiration of separable property rights and copyright -- a person's volition belongs to that person only, and I would consider it a violation of their free will for them to be digitally-revived in any way that they had not already signed on for. In the way of natural life, older generations pass on and make way for the new; we may regret their passing and know a good deal of it to be untimely, but no amount of technological pretense will make another "real" performance out of whole cloth when the actor is gone and cannot express hris own will or imagination. If actors were all the same under their faces, sure we could change them around with computerized masks and there'd be no difference. But anyone who values "real actors" in the first place cannot seriously think that a skillful-enough veneer of CGI-over-motion capture will equal a "new" performance by a deceased actor. They're dead for all purposes of getting further acting out of them personally, and apart from that they deserve some protection against being involved in projects without their consent or control -- the same autonomy that I would think to be due all actors, alive or deceased, under any semblance of fair labour law.

Besides, can you imagine the oppressiveness of a "star system" that did not let the dead be dead and allow new acting names to rise for their own virtues?
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From:heron61
Date:August 21st, 2008 06:21 am (UTC)
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Besides, can you imagine the oppressiveness of a "star system" that did not let the dead be dead and allow new acting names to rise for their own virtues?

Actually, I see this sort of tech as allowing a truly vast improvement over the current Hollywood system. Today, many actors are selected based solely on appearance (is there really any other explanation for Keanu Reeves), or at best, based on a mixture of appearance and skill. This tech can remove appearance from the equation. You need a living, moving, talking actor under the CGI, but they don't have to look like Angelina Jolie or Tom Cruise, they can look perfectly ordinary and could still star in a film with Bogart or Bacall's face CGI'd over theirs. However, that's just the fact, the talent is their own. I find the massively cool in that it has the potential to vastly improve the average talent level in major films. It would also do a good bit to kill off the Hollywood botox industry, and that's a damn good idea.

As for the rest, I also believe that souls (whatever they may be) survive, but that in any useful sense, nothing more than fragments of identity & memory do, and I consider myself my memories far more than anything that might reside in/with my soul. I also firmly believe that I am not any past lives I may have had, and that my identity dies with my body (barring various transhumanist options that I hope to see). Thus, it makes no sense for me to have rights after death.
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From:aureantes
Date:August 21st, 2008 07:12 am (UTC)
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*shrugs* You can have your lack of rights if you want...


I just don't see the point of dwelling on using Bogart or Bacall in that case either -- making a more audience-appealing face is one thing, but why make it a face that's aleady claimed by another known actor, unless specifically and limitedly to complete a film already begun by that actor, so that one has an idea of the original intent?

Bogart wasn't originally considered that great-looking himself, you know....so what chance would someone of his skill and looks have to be known as an actor in his own right if, say, the face and body of John Barrymore were constantly being superimposed to cover up his own less-than-perfect features? The actors that we know as "classic" today were often highly idiosyncratic -- Bogart, Garbo, Rudolf Valentino, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, Theda Bara, Mae West, Claude Rains, Steve McQueen, James Dean, Boris Karloff, even Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe herself -- were not glamorous celebrity types to begin with. The glamour, what there was of it, was constructed and angled, while the original material was very much human and individual.

So, again, what is the benefit in favouring one kind of idiosyncracy over another, ostensibly to avoid the pressure of visual glamour itself but with the effect of eclipsing current fine character actors beneath the persona of other fine character actors who just happen to be dead and already-famous? Sounds like a cheap shot against the quality lesser-known actors of today, just for the sake of dredging more commercial success out of the "celebrity likeness" franchise -- and I'm sure rights-holders will be all in favour of cashing in on that as much as is feasible. One might with as much (and possibly more) reason argue that celebrity impersonators be officially licensed and rebaptized to legally "be" the actors of old, rather than claim that 'dead actor technology' is an advancement in opportunity for the serious living actors of today, under their own names.

If anyone really wanted to "kill off the botox industry" and reduce the pressure on screen actors/actresses to be flawless paragons of looks over talent (and really, I think that Keanu Reeves, Shia LeBoeuf and Jessica Alba are more consistent examples of that imbalance), they would be against the mandated switch to HDTV, seeing as HD's microdetailed view has already re-raised the bar yet again for what are to be considered "superstar" aesthetic ideals. Just as with Singin' in the Rain, advancements in technology make it hard for those who were adept in the old medium but can't meet the demands of the new. Which way should the progression of acting go?--towards flexibility and innovation of craft, or backwards to deify and re-enshrine the screen idols of the past in a time that is no longer theirs?

And if one considers "real actors" to be just fine and great so long as we don't have to look at their real faces and bodies....then I suppose this will be the golden age of illusion, and the triumph, not defeat, of style over substance. I don't know about you, but I like to watch real actors for their own sake, not that of another player's name. I like knowing what Andy Serkis looks like in real life, and knowing that it's him playing the part underneath all the CGI. I like giving people the recognition that is due them for their own acting. And I do not want the likeness of dead celebrities to become the dead hand upon the living craft of film acting. We already have film/TV bios and known-to-be-simulated cameos of the actors themselves in movies as it is -- but we can't bring back the acting of the actors, and that's why I consider this to be useless in its recurrent proposal: the original actors are no longer there to act and make the conscious choices required in acting, therefore they should not, regardless of any likenesses used, be considered to be acting "again."

To reference Bob Dylan (and a far better film than I'd expect out of all this techno-necromancy).....they're not there.
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From:xuenay
Date:August 21st, 2008 03:34 pm (UTC)
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I know that souls can and do continue beyond/through physical death

Assuming this is true, how are these souls harmed by having their likeness reused?
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From:heron61
Date:August 21st, 2008 07:37 pm (UTC)
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That is indeed and excellent point. If reincarnation exists (the most sensible option from my PoV) then most previous memories vanish and the individual gains a new likeness. If there is some afterlife, then the individual presumably also has a new existence considerably different from their life in this world. In either case, they are in a real sense someone new in a new existence.
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From:aureantes
Date:August 22nd, 2008 02:01 am (UTC)
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I wasn't implying that they are "harmed" at all, but rather that if one thinks that they were so great and worthy of admiration in the first place than why not keep hands off their choices and free will and not put "them" (the likenesses) into projects that they (the real persons) had no opportunity to make a choice for or against, let alone decide how they would have played the prospective roles?

I don't think that I would want to go see a "new" movie that for al its techness can only make a guess-from-evidence at how the actor being reconstructed would have acted, and therefore I am never going to actually see that advertised "new" performance of Such-and-Such, regardless of what anyone says. Better to acknowledge that one can't know what Bogart or Bacall would have done, and that the actor doing the acting beneath is their own person making the choices.

I'm not talking about stuntmen or body-doubles for sex scenes, or even digital reconstruction or stand-ins in order to finish the role that an actor began intentionally but did not live long enough to complete -- I'm talking about actually acting and claiming all the conscious decisions of creating a character, and in that regard I do not believe in passing off digital facsimiles as famous names -- it's disrespectful both to the dead actors and to the living ones who won't be given due recognition for being themselves.

Admittedly it does not "harm" the dead simply to have their personal will ignored, whether known or not, but in this case it is analogous to the forgery of famous artists' styles, and the attribution to their names of things they never actually did. If one considers this to be no real offense against anyone, from the artist being imitated to the collectors who buy for the sake of a false name rather than a real one, then of course there's nothing "wrong" with it. But if one actually does care about the original artists and maintaining the integrity of the artistic choices they made, then there can be no quarter given to just guessing and simulating -- every artist, in my opinion, deserves to have their own work be recognized as their work, and a fully-credited line drawn between that which is their authentic acting and conscious involvement in a project and that which is impersonation, splicing or homage after the fact. Bogart in The Maltese Falcon is far more definitely a real performance of his than Bogart in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (which I'd call a posthumously spliced performance-by-license), and anything that isn't even actual footage of the man himself simply does not deserve to be counted as something that he did -- because it isn't. It's not a matter of injury but a matter of honesty.

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