Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Pinnacle of Hollywood Special Effects: Humans Not Wanted

In 1979, Disney released “The Black Hole”.  The opening credits of that movie involved a computer generated image of a 3 dimensional green line grid black hole, which was the longest computer generated image in a movie to date.  Now, 32 years later, we see that the range of special effects has no boundary.  Anything imaginable can be created for the screen.  Many movies made today involve actors wearing motion capture suits so that their digital image can be computer animated, such as in “Avatar”.  In fact, we are on the verge of rendering human actors irrelevant.  Over the next 5 to 10 years, the ability to create a human face with the realism of a true human will be achieved.  We can suspend our disbelief now when humans are animated into an alien species where we don’t know what a real alien would look like, except for what we see on screen.   The thousands of subtle movements in a human face, including coloration and eye dilation, are still unrealized, but the day will come. 
The obvious effect will be the end of the superstar and red carpets.   Because in the movie making of the future, the actors we see on screen will be the accumulation of multiple sources.  The face might come from a model.  A person’s ability to act will not matter, but their appearance alone will be what is important.   Long dead actors could be brought back in a digital form.   Next, take a person that can act physically and strap a motion capture suit on them.  And to finish things up, you need a voice actor.  But what happens if people love the artificial person that was created for a movie and they want to see them in another movie.  Which of those three pieces will be needed?  I’ll leave that to another blog post.
Rendering humans irrelevant is a future state of movies.  There is a current change I see happening in movies as a result of the limitlessness of special effects.  Back to my black hole analogy, a movie like that brought in audiences to see what for the day was amazing special effects.   The original “Clash of the Titans” was the last movie made by the legendary stop motion animator, Ray Harryhausen.   At the time, the special effects were the best of a long career.   However, when viewed today, the special effects do not stand the test of time, but the story does and is still worth watching.  Hollywood decided that the original material was good enough to remake the movie with timeless state of the art special effects.  The problem with their remake was that while they did make a movie in which the special effects leave very little to be improved upon, they totally forgot the story.  The remake was a stinker that I hope to never watch again.    
As a result of the special effects reaching a climax, #1 the number of movies to remake just to update the special effects will decline precipitously.  #2, the ability to make a movie that draws in crowds because of the special effects alone will decline precipitously.   Both of these are good points in that it will force studios to focus more on stories than imagery.  They will be able to create any story with no worry about how they can make it come to life, just so long as the story itself has life.

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