By IAN FAILES
Things move quickly in visual effects. An appetite for imagery that has never been seen before, coupled with fast-moving technological advancements and changing global settings for entertainment production, means it can be hard to predict what might happen in VFX.
But we can look to recent developments, say in digital humans on screen, or the rise of real-time and VR, to think about future developments. Here’s a look at what might be some of the main visual effects issues coming up.
DIGITAL ACTORS ARE READY FOR THEIR CLOSE-UP, WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT
The prospect of a fully photoreal digital actor gracing our screens has been simmering along for several years now. But the appearance of the CG likeness of the deceased Peter Cushing as Governor Tarkin and a young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story recently re-stirred the debate.
What debate? Well, it’s multi-tiered. First there are the legal and ethical considerations about whether a dead (or alive) actor should be brought to life in a digital role in the first place. Would that actor want to have appeared in another film, a TV commercial, a game? Ultimately, that might be something that is solved purely in a legal way, such as via a contract or estate permissions.
Then there are the technological issues. It can be done. We are at the stage where CG modeling, facial and body scanning, the capturing of performances, animating digital actors and rendering them can be done incredibly convincingly. It’s already commonplace for digital double and stunt work, and characters such as Tarkin, Leia, and others (notably the digital Paul Walker seen in Furious 7 and the young Sir Anthony Hopkins in Westworld) are evidence that the phenomenon is already with us as a filmmaking technique.
If filmmakers are crafting scenes that require digital humans, then digital humans will exist. So the question might not be, are CG actors ready for their close-up, but instead, how good will their close-up look? And the audience will always be the judge of that, even if the future of digital humans is already here.
But are these digital actors convincing enough, and should it be used in the first place? Have we brought CG humans out of the Uncanny Valley? Remember, making a digital actor is hard and requires a ton of nuance, technology and perhaps luck. And do we even need to replace actors – even dead ones – just because we (almost) can?
In the end, none of this debate might matter. If filmmakers are crafting scenes that require digital humans, then digital humans will exist. So the question might not be, are CG actors ready for their close-up, but instead, how good will their close-up look? And the audience will always be the judge of that, even if the future of digital humans is already here.