Virtual Acting In The Cinema Industry Film Studies Essay

Virtual actors (hereafter VA) are human shaped computer generated entities – not necessarily real-life entities – that perform various tasks in a wider range of applications such as motion pictures, computer games, software applications or avatars. As Adam Faier said “Virtual actors are becoming ours entertainers, helpers and companions in everything from motion pictures and video games to business software”. Indeed, in James Cameron’s blockbuster film “Avatar” an alien tribe in a distant and imaginative planet fights again human invention on the energy sources of the planet.

This movie was an important step in the realization of 3D virtual technology in cinematography. More importantly it was a radical step in acting: in “Avatar” three different forms of acting could be observed: 1) real acting, 2) virtual acting and 3) animated acting. In the first case real actors are involved without any technology included. In the second case only virtual actors involved without any real actor included. In the third case a computer generated character follows the performance of a real actor: that is an avatar in the movie played by another avatar in the studio.

In modern computerized societies, the problem of virtual actors has been discussed with many advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, a virtual actor saves time and money to the producers and directors. On the other hand, virtual actors are not realistic as real actors are. However, despite the extensive research on the ethical and social impact of virtual actors in the industry of cinema, limited attention is found in the problem of unemployment caused to real actors by virtual actors. Based on this gap of studies, the research question of this extended essay is: to what extend virtual actors will cause unemployment to real actors?

The position of this essay is that virtual acting will bring unemployment to real acting. This position will be justified in the following way: in the next chapter, I will present what is a virtual actor; in the third chapter, I will present the advantages of virtual actors; in the fourth chapter, I will present the disadvantages of virtual actors; in the fifth chapter, I will present the problem of unemployment caused by virtual actors to real actors; and finally, in the sixth chapter, I will offer a solution based on the idea of animated acting.

Avatar – Social Context – There already movies where the heroes and the heroines are visual like “Beowulf”. Virtual actors have become more popular with the development of technology

2. What is a virtual actor?

There are several types of virtual actors. Virtual actors could be an imaginary human shaped person with an unknown appearance to the observers or it might be a known actor who has been virtualized for a project or a movie. [ref] Movies with virtual actors have been produced. There are also movies that virtual actors have taken place and the observers have not realized it either because they were very good programmed and designed or because they were not main characters but supernumery. [ref]. Finally, the latest advanced is called Autonomous Digital Actors (ADA): “a new kind of virtual characters endowed with self-animation capabilities delivered by artificial intelligence techniques”.

2.1 Real Actors vs. Virtual Actors

Before this technological advancement we did not have Vas; we had only real actors: a real actor should pretend a character in a film that in real life does not even know. The hard thing for a real and talented real actor is that he/she has to be convincing. For example, a real actor that in his/her life is calm may have to pretend a character that is hot tempered. So in order to be a real actor you should be talented as well. And this is the reason why the talented actors are well paid and some of them are of the richest people in the world. (ref) In addition, in order to make a movie you do not need only actors but also other relevant staff such as producers, directors, hair-dressers and a crew for the cameras. All these professionals need to take money and so many motion movies with high quality as tremendously expensive (ref). Virtual actors is a suggested solution to motion pictures cost. However, virtual actors could not exist without the development of computer animation.

2.2. Computer animation

Animations start to exist at 1895 with the invention of movie cameras and projectors where James Stuart Blackton with a simple technique record the first kind of animation. His movie called “The enchanted drawing”. The technique was to make a drawing then stops recording make same changes and then continue to record and with doing this a lot of times he made the movie. Then Emil Cohl continuous with the same technique with several movies. Winson McCay follows with “Gertie the Dinosaur” and others moving cartoons where were more realistic than the earlier movies. Later in 1915 John Bray invented the cell system which help the animators to make films easier in a shorter time period and in 1917 invented another method rotoscoping where he projected photos in a paper and then traced them over. Afterwards appears Max Fleischer with Koko the clown and Otto Mesmer with Felix the cat in 1920s. After Mesmer appears a new name Walt Disney. Walt Disney was the first that combined real life and cartoons at the movie “Alice in wonderland”. Where there was a little girl that goes into adventure in an animated world. After that Walt Disney collaborate with his brother Roy Disney and made “Mike” the mouse and make big profits because of the fact that they combined for the first time pictures with sounds. Next Walt Disney made a big step and make “snow white and seven dwarfs” which costs about 2 million dollars, a very big amount of money, but it had a huge profits. Simultaneously with Walt Disney and after (1930s and 1940s) appears Warner brothers(Warner Bros) with Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny and William Hanna and Joseph Barbera with Tom&Jerry, Flintstones and others.

In 1950s animations start being computer animations. First computer graphics used in navy. A big invention was in 1963 were Ivan Sutherland in MIT invented “sketchpad”. Sketchpad was a pad where they sketch a random shape and with rules that the programmer give to the computer the computer applied the rules to the shape and transform the shape to something. But before 1971 the programmers face the problem of lack of memory of the computers. In 1971 silicon chips made and open the doors to animation improvement. And now in 1970s the computer generated images (CGI) could be output to a video. Later in 1974 in Canada programmers made a program that fill in the frames between the key frames alone and combined with a technology called morphing were used to create the movie “hunger”. In 1976 the programmer made a program that represents 3 dimensional pictures (3D). but now is the time to create more realistic animations and this will be achieved with the marry of CGI with real life. How it works? It is simple. We put tracking points to an actor and we place him to an green background habitat where he is filmed to act. The tracking points help us to dress to actor with an computer generated suit because we can put to the computer his actual body moves and the green background help as to cut the actor and place him to another real or computer generated background. But now they all have all the knowledge and technological background that they need the only that they want is a software. So in Canada in 1992 a software program called “Alias” made which could produce the most realistic digital effects. With “Alias” was made the “Blockbuster-Terminator 2” in 1992 and “Jurassic Park” in 1994.

2.3 Virtual Actors: IT background

VAs has risen with the technological development and particularly advanced computer animation and demanded computer hardware as well as sophisticated computer software. In my analysis, (1) you should have advanced hardware like large hard-disks, huge RAMs, very good CPUs etc.; (2) there must be very advanced software programs where the laws of physics applied to the avatars; (3) there must be a developed motion analyses from psychologists.

Creating a virtual actor is not an easy work. It needs detailed small steps. First programmers make an human shaped object using 3D shapes (pic.1). This object is the base form of all human shaped characters. Then they try to make this object do same basic moves that all characters may do. They try making it walking, running, sitting, leaning, waving and shaking hands.

Picture 1

But in order to make this object to do these tasks they should make the facilities that are needed. For making this object walking they should make the path or for making it sit they should make a chair etc.

The programmers also try to make programs where the VAs could act with their own willing. This could be a big step of the technology but there are other ethical problems that should be discussed.

If we want to compare virtual actors and real actors we have to take into consideration the advantages and the disadvantages of each separately.

3. Advantages of virtual actors

Virtual actors have many advantages and for this reason they are a successful technological advancement.

Virtual actors firstly do not act with their own willing. They are programmed to do what they do. This means that they lack of faking a line in the shoots if something unpredictable happened. But the fact that they do not act with their own will be advantage because there will not be any objections over the making of the film. For example, some real actors demand more money during filming which can ruin the movie or they sometimes make strikes.

Secondly, there is a possibility that an actor dies during filming and makes a big loss to the filming industry because the movie should stop. A well known example is Brandon Lee’s death during the shooting for the movie ‘The Crow’ and the serious problem that his death caused in the production.

Thirdly, an important advantage of virtual actors is that are always available 24 hour per day. The director is not depended on the wills and sometimes strange attitudes of the real actors, but organizes the time and demands of the virtual actors in accordance to his own convenience.

Fourthly, virtual actors are not expensive in terms of salaries. While real actors with high reputation demand great or even astronomical salaries, virtual actors have only the cost of their design and in long-term they save money for the studios. This is a great advantage for the producers and the directors.

Fifthly, virtual actors are always convenient. They do not complain they do not have bad temper, they do not get sick or having any kind of accident. Therefore the directors and the producers do not risk the movie and they have only to organize passive virtual actors. Moreover, real actors sometimes cannot avoid the throw tantrums, they are human and this is a part of the human behavior. Some people are very hot tempered and some other is not so much but they cannot be compared with virtual actors that never throw tantrums.

Sixthly, whereas real actors have to do dangerous or difficult scenes with great risk of their life; virtual actors are without danger. This advantage is also linked to the cost of Kaskaders (actor that plays dangerous scenes). With virtual actors you do not need Kaskaders. Any scene even impossible can be done with virtual actors.

Seventhly, there is not need to work on a scene many times. With virtual actors reshooting is not required. This advantage saves time for both the director and the production.

Finally, virtual actors never grow old. Like book novels where the hero is always young in the imagination of the reader, the virtual actor is always young and always available in the same condition for the virtual reality created by the director. For example, imagine harry-potter to be a virtual actor, there with be not worries and anxieties by the production to crate the sequel of movies as fast as possible.

4. Disadvantages of Virtual Actors

Virtual actors do not have only advantages but also there have many disadvantages. Adam Faier has worked and discussed the disadvantages of virtual actors.

First and foremost, a virtual actor is successive when he is convincing. In order to be convincing the programmers should overcome the difficulty of creating the details of the virtual actors. So the technical part of virtual actors is difficult. In the technical part is included the difficulty of making the grimace of human face where the programmers have to study psychology in order to express them in every situation and filling. A similar difficulty is the hair and clothing representation. More importantly is to make the virtual actors act naturally in accordance to the laws of physics and common sense. [more…]

Secondly, the making of a virtual actor is expensive. It demands software and hardware of high technology and, as a matter of fact, this high technology software and hardware needs specialized programmers and stuff. + specialized sw and hw

Thirdly, the virtual actor has to be always instructed by the animator and the director. Desapte the fact that a virtual actor can make the saem movements repeated almost perfect each time, the animator an d the director have to give in great detail instruction over and over again in slight changes of the movie. While a real actor can make a scene with minimum instructions, the virtual actor must be programmed and reprogrammed in different scenes. For example, if the director wants the actor to go from room x to room y then if there is a real actor this will happen in minimum time and with minimum instructions by the director, otherwise, if there is a virtual actor this will happen with many instructions along with the directions of the animator. Therefore, the virtual actors could have the disadvantage to be time-consuming.

Finally, an important disadvantage is the realness of virtual actors. As Faier observes, “whereas a real actor might need to spend some time in makeup and do a few takes to film a commercial, the virtual actor, while perhaps always dressed, is nonetheless devoid of instructions for the new environment”. Indeed this is an important problem because the audience wants to see in the movies real figures of artists and not fake figures of artists. It is commonly agreed that people like cinema and movies because they filled touched and some times identified with the actors. If the actors are not real people regard movie as a computer game and not as a real life. A movie with virtual actors that look and behave like dolls is not going to be taken seriously. However, with today’s technology the virtual actors have become so realistic with high tech design and extremely persuading behavior and actions. Take for example the “Avatar” movie where you can hardly recognize who is the real and virtual actor.

Nevertheless, probable the most important problem that is related to virtual actors is the issue of unemployment that could be raised to real actors. This problem could be discussed in the next chapter.

5. Virtual Actors and Unemployment

Imagine that you are a young actor who is going to pass an “audition” and you are full of hopes to take the role. This role was a dream for you and you are ready to give the best of yourself in order to play this role. Unfortunately, despite the fact that you have given the best of yourself in front of the director, the director and the producer preferred to realize this role with a virtual actor. This scenario could be probably the future when there will be a mass production of virtual actors. In the future, animators could create for directors any kind of virtual actor for playing any kind of scene and without the need of audition. As James Cameron – the director of Avatar – described the future of cinematography: “Where it’s going is that probably you’ll see more and more pictures shot less expensively. It will be less expensive to shoot a movie using the performance capture approach than to use real actors on real locations”. If Cameron’s prediction will be fulfilled, this will raise the problem of unemployment.

Actors will not be able to find jobs and so the whole cinema economy will face a serious change and challenge. Instead of salaries paid for actors, producers and companies will pay animators for creating virtual actors. This will create a new kind of discrimination between virtual actors and real actors. In high tech cinema industry there will be a virtual actors’ monopoly aided by big productions and big companies. The new actors will have to move to other artistic activities such as theater, or to immigrate to other countries that use traditional movie techniques.

On the other hand, someone could say that in the future we will have to kinds of cinemas virtual cinema and real cinema. Whereas virtual cinema will include virtual actors, 3D animations, virtual reality environments, real cinema will include real actors, natural scenes and human behaviors. In the second case a new revolution of cinema could be emerge focusing on more artistic and human factors. However, even if this is going to happen, a mass unemployment effect will threat the field of actors.

On the other hand, employment will rise in computer professional, graphic specialists and of course computer animations and special effects designers. As Cameron supported, virtual actors will not mean “more actors on the unemployment line… everybody’s profession in the movie industry is changing … being adaptable is important for actors, just like cinematographers, set designers, and most importantly, directors. Actors are not threatened at all. Performance capture allows the actors to directly drive the digital character.” However, Cameron’s position will not bring employment to real actors but only to cinematography professional. This will not bring a solution to the potential problem of actor’s unemployment. It is going to be supported that a decrease in actors’ unemployment will be succeeded with the use of modern virtual reality technology in collaboration with real artists. In the following chapter a solution will be offered.

6. Solution: The animated acting.

A solution to the problem of unemployment caused to real actors from virtual actors is to offer, as Brisson and Paiva have supported, a balancing collaborative story creation system. Particularly, this is to follow the avatar technique based on animating acting. This solution is a middle path between real acting and virtual acting. In animating acting the actor has an active role in the movie. With the use of modern technology and graphics, the animator transforms the expressions and movements of a real actor into a graphic representation of the actor: that is an avatar. In the following image we can see the example of Zoe Saldana wearing reflective markers and a specialized hearing in order to personify the virtual character of Neytiri in Cameron’s movie “Avatar”.

This example could be an efficient solution to the problem of a real actors unemployment. New technology is not a threat to acting but an asset. Between the extremes of real acting and virtual acting, animated acting will give to the audience the ability to see movies in realistic 3D and virtual environments as well as to see movies with real actors. Despite what the audience wants the actors will keep their active role in cinema industry.

On the other hand, as Rachel Abramovitz correctly observes in his recent article, there is a problem about how a computer generated character deserves equal recognition and acknowledge as real actors deserve. Indeed we know that Cameron’s “Avatar” has been nominated for many Oscars including stars Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver. In this case who deserves the Oscar: the computer generated blue ten feet tall creature or the real actor behind the computer generated image? On the one hand, strong criticism is against giving Oscars to non-real actors. On the other hand, many people – including actors and directors – accept acknowledging the real actor behind the virtual actor. As Sigourney Weaver states, “Zoe played Neytiri with such strength, grace and force. If the audience realized just how much, they would have appreciated the performance more … The technology is so innovative, and it will just continue to get more innovative — we might as well recognize [the contributions of actors] now”. In the same spirit, the director Steven Spielberg said “it allows the director and cast to focus on the performance” and so the real actor is the one who performs.

The above problem of recognition is indeed of grate significance. However it is not a problem of unemployment. Even if we use a real actor or an animated actor in both cases the actor is the one that performs the scene.

7. Conclusion

Virtual acting is a new reality in cinema industry. Nowadays, many producers prefer virtual actors because they offer consistency, low cost, reliability and high productivity. However, there are many ethical and social issues arising from the extensive use of virtual actors in cinema productions. One potential problem is that of unemployment. If, in the future, producers and directors will make their movies based only on virtual actors, real actors will lost their job; real acting will be an obsolete profession. Despite the possibility of this problem, limited attention has been given to this issue. In this essay has been shown that unemployment is a social problem for real actors. The suggested solution is related to modern technology; it is “animated acting” which bring together real acting and virtual acting. With animated acting, the real actors will adapt in modern cinema technology and so they will be able to offer their unique performance by animating a graphic representation. An avatar is not only a representation of graphic of someone but also a solution to the problem of real actor’s unemployment.

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