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James Cameron On How Avatar Technology Could Keep Actors Young 404

Posted by Soulskill
from the hollywood-can't-wait-to-abuse-this dept.
Suki I writes "An article at EW discusses another use for Avatar's sophisticated motion-capture technology: 'Sure, it's terrific for turning human actors into big blue alien Na'vis. But the photorealistic CGI technology James Cameron perfected for Avatar could easily be used for other, even more mind-blowing purposes — like, say, bringing Humphrey Bogart back to life, or making Clint Eastwood look 35 again. "How about another Dirty Harry movie where Clint looks the way he looked in 1975?" Cameron suggests. "Or a James Bond movie where Sean Connery looks the way he did in Doctor No? How cool would that be?"' The article goes on to quote Cameron as saying you would still need actors to play the roles, and that an ethical line needs to be drawn somewhere."
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James Cameron On How Avatar Technology Could Keep Actors Young

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @09:52AM (#30797888)

    NO

  • by shidarin'ou (762483) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @09:55AM (#30797914) Homepage

    Those weren't humans, they were blue skinned aliens with very different facial features. The uncanny valley was not addressed, so we have no idea how this "photoreal" technology stands up to that close inspection.

    I'm far far FAR from unbiased on this, but if you wanted to speculate on making actors look younger, you'd still be better served looking at Benjamin Button.

    • by Suki I (1546431) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:14AM (#30798034) Homepage Journal
      The article covers what you mention. Sigourney Weaver's Avatar looks 20 years younger than the real "version". The CGI is described as accurate enough to replicate the actor down to the pours. My take was that it gives the director another tool for making an interesting movie and they still can't replicate what is inside the actor's head.
    • by ivoras (455934)
      I don't know for sure but I thought some of the "real" scenes were also CGIed - specifically, the scenes where the jarhead records his log at the various stations - to me they looked completely artificial - and the uncanny valley effect was there.
      • by Fred_A (10934)

        I don't know for sure but I thought some of the "real" scenes were also CGIed

        I thought they all were. Wasn't that the point ?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by davester666 (731373)

          "and that an ethical line needs to be drawn somewhere"

          I'm pretty sure any ethical line the movie industry comes up with will be drawn by money.

    • Input-Output... (Score:5, Informative)

      by denzacar (181829) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:28AM (#30798128) Journal

      Input part - the facial-capture tech is obviously ready. At most it may need some tweaking.

      The output part... Like you said. Uncanny valley effect may still be present with humans. BUT..
      Considering that Battle Angel*, which Cameron plans to do as (one of) his next project(s) is based around exactly that kind of implementation of the technology - I'd say that he is more than "just talking".

      *The main character is a 200+ year old cyborg girl that changes several bodies throughout the story while keeping the same face and similar body size)

    • by gaspyy (514539)

      You are correct but still, for the most part the Na'vi did look real and more importantly they looked alive.

      I've looked at the movie and at high-res stills and I never thought "this looks so fake". In fact, one scene with a Samson helicopter and a bunch of mercenaries did look like CGI to me; then, reading Cinefex I saw a picture of the scene and it was real (1:1 model of the helicopter, the people and even some of the grass)

      I am doing 3d work (not at that level) and I usually know where to look for imperf

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Note that what we call "Hollywood looks" is a sort of uncanny valley we learned to love. Were you in front of someone really as good looking as a movie star after make-up and post-processing, you would certainly have an uncanny valley feeling. But when seen through the screen, that looks okay. Actually, many actors are already being "smoothed" in movies and pictures.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Howitzer86 (964585)
      I agree, however, some actors can be reproduced. A CGI version of Keanu Reeves (such as the one created almost 10 years ago), would never be noticed as odd, unsettling, or surreal.

      - because he already looks that way.
  • by bytesex (112972) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @09:55AM (#30797920) Homepage

    "and that an ethical line needs to be drawn somewhere."

    Eh. No.

    • by RobVB (1566105) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:01AM (#30797954)
      Yeah, this coming from a guy who tried to murder an entire alien civilization for our viewing pleasure.
    • by mbone (558574)

      "and that an ethical line needs to be drawn somewhere."

      Haven't you figured out movie speak yet ? In movieland,

      "yes" means "maybe"

      "maybe" means "no"

      "soon" means "never"

      and "somewhere" means "elsewhere"

  • by Laxitive (10360) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @09:58AM (#30797934) Journal

    "How cool would that be?"

    I don't know. Depends on how good the movie is.

  • uncanny valley (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GeLeTo (527660) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @09:58AM (#30797938)
    Cameron sidestepped the uncanny valley ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley [wikipedia.org] ) by making the navi different enough from people. I have yet to see a believable CG human character.
    • by GIL_Dude (850471)
      I have yet to see a believable CG scene period. Whether the actors were real or not. In fact, I guess it is worse when the actors are real and performing in front of a green screen and the CGI is composited in later. I've noticed that many people can sit through scenes like that just fine (including my wife), but for me they are just jarring. It's usually something with perspective or lighting sources or whatnot that just screams "something is wrong here" and blows the immersion I am trying to get in the mo
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What you are describing is OCD and not just being hyper observant.

        Hyper observant would be noticing that the revolver in the original saw was empty ( no spent shells ) so that the "dead" body on the floor at the end could not have killed itself.

        OCD is noticing that there are 17 flowers in the vase and not 16.

  • by nanospook (521118) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:07AM (#30798002)
    Bring back Ronald Reagan!
  • The obvious goal is the elimination of human actors which will assure higher profit margins for the film industries. Since legal issues will arise if a character is duplicated by computer art the trick will be to take the admired characteristics of several stars and combine them into a "new" image. Blending Bogart with Eastwood if done by an artist may well present a new film star to the public and create a complex situation in which the Bogart estate and the Eastwood interests both have little if

    • Re: Mix The Best (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tonycheese (921278) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:46AM (#30798710)

      The point of human actors are that they're good at their job - acting (and marketing themselves, in some cases). They are not hired for their face or body as much as their acting ability. There are a lot of people out there who have great faces and bodies but do not end up as superstar actors. If the goal in casting was to have a perfect-looking human, many of our top actors today would not be where they are.

      The whole point of avatar was that there were good human actors driving the CG effects.

  • Ethical? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bert64 (520050) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:08AM (#30798010) Homepage

    What ethical line? It's all business, actors are very expensive and often behave like divas so removing the actors and replacing them with rendered models can increase the profit margins for the movie studios.

    Using rendered models not only saves you the millions that big name actors typically demand, but you no longer need to hire filming locations, stage stunts etc... Actors face becoming obsolete sooner or later.
    Movie production of the future will be done in third world countries, where hundreds of poorly paid workers beaver away in a callcenter like environment constructing and animating digital models.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by RobVB (1566105)

      Movie production of the future will be done in third world countries

      Don't you think you're overreacting a bit? Sure, California has been hit hard by the recession, but it's not a third world country yet.

    • Re:Ethical? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Eudial (590661) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:17AM (#30798050)

      What ethical line? It's all business, actors are very expensive and often behave like divas so removing the actors and replacing them with rendered models can increase the profit margins for the movie studios.

      Using rendered models not only saves you the millions that big name actors typically demand, but you no longer need to hire filming locations, stage stunts etc... Actors face becoming obsolete sooner or later.
      Movie production of the future will be done in third world countries, where hundreds of poorly paid workers beaver away in a callcenter like environment constructing and animating digital models.

      The fact that it's profitable does not automatically sidestep any ethical considerations. Case in point: It would be very profitable to chain your workers to the factory floor and have them work 18 hours a day for no money, and consumers would be able to buy the wares much cheaper, yet it would not be ethical.

      In this case, one can question whether the studios have the (moral and legal) right to the actors' image beyond what they've filmed.

      • by Rix (54095)

        If those factory workers were just a drawing in a computer, sure.

      • by Bert64 (520050)

        Actors are pretty much made by the movie companies, in future you will see the movie companies creating virtual actors (ie artificially created characters) that get reused in multiple movies...

        This already happens, but only with cartoon characters because the level of realism hasn't been there.

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        I'm sure that in the actor's contracts there's some sort of clause to use their image in any related film promotion or even future works (i.e. a flashback in the second movie with a scene from the first movie, and the actor does not appear in the second movie otherwise). Such a clause could probably be shoehorned into being used in this manner. Legal battle would ensue and that's where the policy on this sort of thing would ultimately be decided.

    • by Nadaka (224565)

      Most actors are cheaper than the >$300 million it took to poop out avatar.

  • "My Word. You could have all your politicians in little boxes - very handy."

  • Terminator Salvation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by D J Horn (1561451) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:17AM (#30798064)

    *SPOILER*

    As mediocre as the movie was, I couldn't help but smile when Arnold shows up as a fresh T-800, looking like he just stepped off the set of the original film. Granted while there are only brief shots of his face - the rest of the scenes using typical hide-a-stunt-double camera angles - it was still a really cool scene in my opinion.

    But as far as doing something more elaborate like a new Bond film starring a 'young' Sean Connery? I don't think the tech is there yet. The uncanny valley is really hard to get out of. Sure a still shot can be rendered to look flawless, but as soon as they start talking it just feels terribly uncomfortable.

  • I cannot wait till actors are 100% artificial. Finally we can get rid of most of those grossly overpaid attention whores. This might be the only case where I am glad when the computer destroys a job.
    • by RobVB (1566105)
      But then who is Conan going to interview?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Suki I (1546431)

        But then who is Conan going to interview?

        CGI Conan or real Conan?

      • But then who is Conan going to interview?

        He'll interview himself, of course. Possibly a whole debating panel of Conans in CGI.
        TV celebrities are as bad as any other at being narcissistic attention whores.

    • by EnglishTim (9662)

      If they've got to a place where actors can be completely replaced, I think it's safe to assume that by that time every single other profession will have been replaced as well. What is it that you do, exactly?

      • by Tanuki64 (989726)

        If they've got to a place where actors can be completely replaced, I think it's safe to assume that by that time every single other profession will have been replaced as well.

        I doubt it. Perfect computer graphics won't remove a bad appendix.

        What is it that you do, exactly?

        I am software developer. :-)

  • by Kenz0r (900338) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:25AM (#30798100) Homepage
    Hasn't tech like this already been used to put a younger looking Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Salvation?

    Video clip (may spoil the movie): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aY57vJOQIlE [youtube.com]
  • I think the biggest advance would be to eliminate the prosthetic forehead that has been the distinguishing mark of TV aliens since the original Star Trek.

  • A few years from now all movies will be cartoons. Next will politicians, they're already puppets anyway.
    • by tepples (727027)

      A few years from now all movies will be cartoons.

      Show me a high-grossing animated drama film about one of the major wars of the twentieth century, and I'll agree with you that cartoons aren't just for kids [tvtropes.org] anymore.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:26AM (#30798118)

    Who single handedly invented, revolutionized and perfected 3D animation. This is the message I'm getting, what did he really do? He told some engineers he wanted a motion capture camera smacked on the forehead of the actors to capture their facial expressions better, he co-developed some camera system for 7 years (I doubt he did any coding).
    For crying out loud, he's a 'director' with lots of cash and a name with huge momentum. I don't flame him for making CG flicks, but taking glory for the whole franchise like some demigod, please, don't start calling motion-capture 'Avatar-technology'.

  • I'd go the opposite. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tjstork (137384) <todd,bandrowsky&gmail,com> on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:26AM (#30798120) Homepage Journal

    I like classic actors and classic films as much as anyone, but, if the United States is to continue, we need to have the arts be alive and stories be retold through new actors, directors and minds. Like, I'm glad Trek got a new crew, but I think we could go even beyond that. We need to break out of racial typecasting. Like, why can't a black or asian guy play the lead in MacBeth? Are greedy kings somehow relevant only to white people? Or why couldn't a white guy play a role as a slave? Acting is -acting-. Screw computers bringing back dead people. Let's use computers to make it possible for anyone to be Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, let every high school play have great special effects. Let's mix high art and low, TV and theater, toss it all into the pot, mix things up, and do something new.

    • by Rix (54095)

      You seem to be under the impression that the world in general wants the US to continue. Interesting.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by malkavian (9512)

      *Shrug* You can have whoever you want in any act role. Depends if you're going for historical accuracy, or put anyone into the role.
      By the same token, you could redo the stories of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and have them cast as a white skinhead with swastikas on his arm. I'm guessing that it'll detract from the canon of the story.
      Hey, much better idea. Why bother with rehashing the old stories, which have a vast amount of accepted roles behind them, and create NEW stories, where the hero is a p

      • by tjstork (137384)

        By the same token, you could redo the stories of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and have them cast as a white skinhead with swastikas on his arm. I'm guessing that it'll detract from the canon of the story.

        In the case of Malcom X, would it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AliasMarlowe (1042386)

      Like, why can't a black or asian guy play the lead in MacBeth?

      It's been done. It's been done more than once, and not just as "modern" reinterpretations. For example, there was a 1937 U.S. theater production of Macbeth in which the whole cast was black, and the setting was Haiti rather than Scotland. Orson Welles did the adaptation which employs bullwhips and muskets as well as swordplay, but kept the spoken words unchanged from Shakespeare's version. It was apparently quite successful, and toured widely. There's a video excerpt of one performance at http://www.youtube [youtube.com]

      • by tjstork (137384)

        For example, there was a 1937 U.S. theater production of Macbeth in which the whole cast was black, and the setting was Haiti rather than Scotland.

        But why did they have to be in Haiti? Why couldn't a black actor play a scottish king, or a white guy play someone in Haiti.

        That's kind of the point. You have to let race go.

  • Now they can finally resurrect Firefly with CGI reproductions of the original cast! It could work as long as the industry does not get too greedy and hire Gilbert Gottfried for Mal and Miley Cyrus for Inara.
  • One example I know - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7edm5fkD1E [youtube.com] - looks very uncanny.
  • why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by xcut (1533357)
    Why would anybody be interested in seeing Sean Connery act in James Bond the same way he did back then? Why would you not just watch the old movie? Does anybody really give a damn if the explosions look slightly more up to date? If you want to use fancy toys, use them to innovate, and find the icons of the next generation.
  • So now they can replace all the pretty people with people that can actually act without affecting the "look" of the movie?

  • the photorealistic CGI technology James Cameron perfected [...]

    James Cameron is a mediocre film director and a terrible writer, but I'm willing to bet he's even worse at coding, 3D modelling or animation.

    James Cameron did not "perfect" anything. He paid some people to put something together so he could make more money from it. Most of the technology used to streamline the CGI production in Avatar was in fact developed for other films (ex., "Benjamin Button").

    And, in any case, the "new" part about Avatar is the (nearly automatic) "performance capture", not the "photorea

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Who gets remembered is not who uses pieces of a technology, but who puts the pieces together into a gestalt. We can look to Apple for that. Before the iPod and iPhone, the pieces were around, touchscreen UI, multitouch, app stores, and smartphones. However, who got the mindshare to Joe Sixpack wasn't RIM, it was Apple who spun existing technologies together to make something cool.

      Cameron is the same way. The CG aliens are not new, but the way they were done as a main part of the film is, making sure the

    • by Backward Z (52442) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @04:04PM (#30800566)

      Wah, this kid tried to deliver my paper this morning and he only managed to throw it halfway up my driveway so I yelled at "MWAH! Don't you kids these days know how to throw? My infant niece can throw better than that!"

      Then I went to Starbucks to get my regular drip coffee but they didn't leave enough space at the top of the cup for me to put my cream so I asked the barista, "Where the fuck am I supposed to put my cream? Are you stupid or something? How hard is it to make a cup of coffee with enough room for the cream?"

      Then that night, when I didn't think things could get any worse, my wife wanted to bring me to some new steak restaurant with "new and innovative" cooking techniques. I was like, "What the fuck? You take the meat, you put it on the grill. You grill the meat, then it's cooked, then you eat it. What needs to be new or innovative about that? YOU COOK THE STEAK THEN YOU EAT IT."

      So then I drowned myself in scotch and called it a night. Where do all these stupid people get off?

    • where the random internet troll heavily bashes some of the most successful politicians/ directors/ writers/ musicians/ businessmen/ programmers/ etc

      based on his vast reserves of authority, based on his obvious advanced knowledge of a given genre

      you don't have to like cameron, but he's obviously extremely successful and knowledgeable. and you are...?

      and then it gets modded 5, Insightful! LOL

      hilarious

      its the great useless ignorant mass of human drek, moved to its great unifying passion: tearing other people d

  • I understand that many contracts and agreements state that the movie studios own the likeness of whoever or whatever, blah blah blah but this could mean an even further shift away from [expensive] actors from entertainment.

    The music industry's quality of output has been noticeably poor over the past few decades. The primary reason for this is not lack of talent, but lack of talent that can be controlled by the industry. Superstars are harder to control, after all. Movies and TV shows have always suffered

  • The same old scripts done by the same old actors. Over and over again, but with a minute change so we must buy it all over again.
    As an extra: http://www.slashfilm.com/wp/wp-content/images/zz4b70bcca.jpg [slashfilm.com]

    • by JSBiff (87824)

      ". . .so we must buy it all over again."

      Wait a minute. . . When did MPAA and RIAA pass a law mandating purchasing crap I don't want? Damn, how the HELL did I miss THAT?

      Last time I checked, there are very few things you are *forced* to purchase (at least, in most democratic countries). Why would I buy another copy of the same movie just for a minute change? I mean, one well known example is the original Star Wars movies remastered a few years ago. I didn't buy those. Had absolutely no interest in them.

      People

  • Part of what makes life interesting is that things and people change ?

    Sean Connery was my favorite James bond, but what makes him so is that the ones after him were not as good, and that he stopped doing it ?

    I already find today's entertainers way to artificial, what with all the nip tucks, the postprocessing, and the training... the last thing I'd like would be for them to be REALLy artificial.

  • by IronDragon (74186) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:55AM (#30798290) Homepage

    Something tells me that being able to take virtually any actor and use them virtually in a film is going to open up two rather annoying types of movies:

    Porn movies with well known actors

    Chinese alternative history movies where well known US actors find themselves on the losing side of World War 2.

    • Chinese alternative history movies where well known US actors find themselves on the losing side of World War 2.

      Are there movies like this now? I'm not sure the average Chinese person would want Japan to win in an alternative history movie, given that Japan occupied China, last I recall, pretty brutally. Animosity against Japan is still pretty strong, though again, last I recall.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @12:57PM (#30799202)

      Chinese alternative history movies where well known US actors find themselves on the losing side of World War 2.

      How about US alternative history movies where the US takes credit for the capture of an Enigma machine even though in reality the British did it? Oh, wait... [wikipedia.org]

    • by AdamHaun (43173) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @01:43PM (#30799524) Journal

      Chinese alternative history movies where well known US actors find themselves on the losing side of World War 2.

      That would be rather odd given that China and the US were on the same side in World War 2.

  • by malkavian (9512) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @10:56AM (#30798304) Homepage

    Could this be the start of the "Quick button click movie maker"? Something akin to a rather more advanced version of the game "The Movies", where you can set a scene from a variety of landscapes (similar to Vue D'Esprit, or some other landscape renderer), add actors (taken from stock modifiable ones, as per Poser, or similar), add in movements and pathing.. Voices taken from a modifiable bank.. Add in stock effects and so on.. And have the bulk of it in a nice GUI development tool..
    I get the suspicion that it'll draw a lot of derision from the real movie makers, but as something that'll be the Visual Basic of the movie world.. Hmm.. This could dispense with a lot of the actors in low prices movies, and if it grows, even in big budget ones.. Though the quality will likely still be missing that 'human touch'.. Still in mass market, like with VB, mostly the only people who'll care will be the ones that really understand the skill and craftmanship behind it.. Your average guy on the street wouldn't care two hoots..

  • Perfected (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whisper_jeff (680366) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:13AM (#30798436)

    But the photorealistic CGI technology James Cameron perfected...

    Whoa. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. It was damn impressive, but it most certainly wasn't perfect. It was always clear that what I was looking at was CG. It is not yet at a point where the computer is going to fool the viewer into thinking that what they are seeing is real. It's come a hell of a long way but we're not yet at "perfected." Not by a long shot.

  • I am sure that some in the studios would love to do this, and I am also sure that it will lead to results that James Cameron won't like.

    To see why, just imagine that this technology had been invented in the 1930's, and that every "major" motion picture today only used actors that had been dead for 30 - 50 years.

  • Avatar's CGI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the roAm (827323) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:26AM (#30798544)
    Oh yes, oh so advanced. Subsurface scattering and high-resolution textures. WOW! Who EVER thought that was possible? Oh, wait, that's right, this technology has existed for years it's just most firms, like Pixar, are happy making cheap cartoons rather than trying to push the boundaries of photorealism. I'm not going to say I have anything against Pixar or Dreamworks or the other "big" CG production houses, but I will say they havn't really contributed anything truly innovative in the last 10 years.
  • This technology may be usable to make actors look younger. But to bring back Humphrey Bogart, you need someone who acts and sounds just like HB. Just using this technology to apply HB's image over a random actor isn't going to cut it.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:50AM (#30798740) Journal

    This is HOLLYWOOD we're talking about, where they f*ck their best friend over 2x before breakfast.

    I'm pretty certain that this technology will be used to REPLACE extras by the 000's within 10 years, and prima donna actors within 25 years.

    Once you've mo-capped 10,000 people walking in a straight line in your database, how hard would it be for a director to tell his cgi guy 'yeah, I want the actor to cross the room', and the cgi can pull up a menu and reply 'you want a sashay, swagger, jaunty gait, stalk, slide, stomp, amble, limp,or other sort of walk; also, do you want John Wayne, Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson, or Carrot Top as the main feel?'

    Sure, you might need/want mo-cap for some sort of core framework, but any doofus off the street could do that for 0.0001% of what Tom Cruise would want for it.

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