Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hollywood Actors vs. Computer-Generated Characters

The latest Hollywood blockbuster „Avatar“, not only that broke almost all filming records, it also gained world-wide attention because of the main characters in the movie, which were computer-generated characters. Thanks to this movie, for the first time in a history of filming, high-payed Hollywood actors are faced with a threat in a shape of not-that-much expensive computer-generated characters.

Revolutionary filming techniques which are being used in the present Hollywood blockbusters for the creation of computer characters and in which reality no one wouldn't doubt, are suggesting a whole different future for the real actors. The real movie stars are maybe counting there last days of glory because they may be, thanks to the latest sensational special effects, replaced with computer-generated characters (CGC) like Golum from “Lord of the Rings” or photorealistic Na’vi from “Avatar”, the latest achievement of the famous director James Cameron.

The actors are asking me if we are trying to replace them, but it’s not about that. What we are trying to do is to replace the five hours we are losing at a make-up chair”, says James Cameron, the director of “Avatar”, for which was spent, according to some estimates, about 500 million dollars, giving this movie a title of a “most expensive in the history of filming”. The record’s don’t stop there. This movie broke almost all box-office records. So far, he earned  $2,726,973,288, which places him at the first place of all times world-wide. The second on that list is Titanic - $1,842,879,955 (also Cameron’s movie), third is The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King - $1,133,027,325, the forth is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest - $1,065,659,812, and so on…

Cameron isn’t the first man who waited many year’s for the latest generation of special effects and computer-generated images. One of the first was the director of “Star Wars”, George Lucas. Was it because of the pressure of the fans, or because of un-sufficiently developed technology, the fact remains that Lucas filmed the sequel of his blockbuster movie 16 year’s later.

Although it’s hard to believe that we won’t need real actors any more in the future, the fact remains that even Cameron waited for some years until the technology gained it’s present level. Cameron wrote the script for “Avatar” in 1994. He offered it to the studios in 1999 but they rejected it, stating that the realization was far to expensive. When the computer animation experts analyzed his idea of a movie, which was taking place in another world, they concluded that the technology for gaining the necessary photorealism wasn’t yet sufficiently developed, so the movie had to wait for some better times. The character of Golum from “The Lord of the Rings” convinced Cameron that the latest revolutionary generation of special effects – called Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) – has advanced enough for realization of his “Avatar”.

Visual effects company “WETA Digital”, owned by the director Peter Jackson and which created Golum from “The Lord of the Rings” – the very first computer-animated actor who was awarded for the best digital role, convinced Cameron that the animators will transfer every aspect of acting on the characters of “Avatar”, because there wasn’t that much difference between Golum and Na’vi. That meant a whole year of development computer calculations which would allow computer-generated characters to express emotions almost identically as the real actors. Cameron himself said that “Avatar” was the most demanding movie he ever made.

The first movie with CGI was “The Abyss”, also directed by James Cameron. The computer-generated water snake in the movie was done by the most famous visual effects studio at that time, “Industrial Light & Magic”, owned by George Lucas.

However, movie heroes who weren’t played buy real actors appeared many years before and one of the first and most favorite was the extraterrestrial E.T. (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial-1982). The costume of this movie character was controlled with very special technique for that time. Following the 20th anniversary and new premiere of this movie, Steven Spielberg couldn’t resist not using the technology advancement, and creating, with his words, the real version of E.T. movie which premiered in 1982. Since then, a lot of things have changed in the movie industry and most of it thanks to special effects and computer technologies, without who, it’s hard to believe that any movie will succeed at box-office at the present time.

As a result of these developments we now have mutated movie heroes which are actually half actors, and half CGC. What is interesting for the latest movies is that even the surrounding of the main actors is computer-generated during production. Weta Digital is world’s number 1, who has, in today’s movie titles, enabled complete transformation of fantasy to reality with the help of the latest technologies.

What is characteristic for the present high-budget movie production is the lack of need for the actors to sit for hours in a chair until the adequate mask is created with make-up (like in a case of horror character Freddy Krueger from “A Nightmare on Elm Street”). There is no need even for puppets, expensive machetes which are being destroyed after only a few seconds of shooting and the usual special effects. The advantage of computer-generated movies is also and the lower price of their production. Time will show if it’s cheaper to create a CGC or, for a more demanding role, hire and pay an expensive Hollywood star.

Matrix” was a revolution on the field of special effects because there was used a 3D sense of space. The same counts for the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Baton” where the creators managed, with special techniques, to transform Bred Pit from an old man to a baby in diapers.

Even the forth part of Terminator saga, “Terminator: Salvation”, used advantages of computer technologies while creating some characters. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused a role in the last movie because of his commitments as a governor of California, and, allegedly, because he thought that his short appearance in the movie will only be used as bait for viewers. That’s why the movie crew took Schwarzenegger’s face from one of the previous sequels of “Terminator” and put it over the face of a dabbler. This caused thrill among viewers who couldn’t possibly imagine this sequel without Arnold.

And while some predict not-so-good future for actors, because they will be, according to the latest Hollywood blockbusters, replaced with CGC, it is unlikely that this will really happen. As we all know, the movie stars are the ones who sell movies and because of who we are going to cinema. The best example of this is the movie “Simone” with Al Pacino playing a director who is trying to regain glory by creating CGC of an actress and attractive blond. His computer creation gains enormous glory and an army of fans, but the problem begins when the fans start wanting to meet her. The fraud is discovered in the end because people tend to love more perceptible things and the real actors. It will remain like that and in the actual film production. At least, until computer technology doesn’t advance a little more and the world get’s sick and tired of spoiled Hollywood stars.

Some facts

  • Work on “Avatar” began in 2005 when the revolutionary CGI was a common thing in movie industry. The biggest problem Cameron’s crew was facing was how to get rid of the effect called “dead eyes”, so the characters would be totally realistic. For that purpose, a technique called “performance capture” was developed with who even the slightest change of expression of an actor was caught thanks to the camera which was placed on the helmet they were wearing. With this technique it is possible to manipulate with the space between the eyes, proportions of the body and the height of characters. The characters themselves in “Avatar” – Na’vi, are alike with the actors who play them, with the exception of some proportions – they have bigger eyes than humans and bigger space between them, and also, they have longer necks. Cameron insisted that characters remain as much as “human” and because of this, every detail of acting was perfectly transferred on CGC’s.

  • Avatar” was filmed with stereoscopic 3D technique. Weta couldn’t shape just the computer-generated scenes in 3D, motion scenes were also had to be recorder with 3D technology. To do that, Cameron had to use “Fusion Camera System”, for whose development was invested 7 years of work. “For me, the 3D technology is the future. In the next 5 years, we will have all our beautiful events of our culture in 3D, from sport broadcasts to casting. And at home, while you watch television or DVD, you won’t need 3D glasses like in cinema”, said Cameron in the recent interview for the German magazine “Focus”. He said that he always tried hard to move the boundaries but, while shooting “Avatar”, that boundary resisted constantly. He compares his experience while making “Avatar” with “a jumper from a cliff and addling with the parachute during jump”.

  • Some of the most famous movies who used CGI were made in 1970s. The revolution in this have caused “Star Wars”, and soon after that “Alien” (1979). In “Abyss” (1989), water was for the first time enriched with 3D effects. “Total recall” was revolutionary because there was used a special technique “motion capture”. In the 1990s revolutionary were: “Robocop”, “Terminator”, “Die Hard”, “Jurassic Park”, “Waterworld”, “Titanic” and “Fight Club”. From the movies who used CGCs and image on a revolutionary way from 2000 and on, the most famous are: “Final Fantasy”, “Matrix Reloaded”, “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring”, “Polar Express” and finally “Avatar”.

Digg Google Bookmarks reddit Mixx StumbleUpon Technorati Yahoo! Buzz DesignFloat Delicious BlinkList Furl

2 comments: on "Hollywood Actors vs. Computer-Generated Characters"

Saill said...

If you are interested, you can watch a trailer of Avatar here:

Saill said...

you can watch all three trailers of The Lord of the Rings by following this link :

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails