Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Synthevolution! Synthespians evolve beyond Avatar ... Darwin puzzled.

As Jim Cameron's Avatar becomes the largest grossing in film history ... surpassing even his film Titanics massive box office return, the interest and focus on the art of "Synthespians" is intensifying. The possibilities of recreating movie icons of the past and creating remarkably realistic synthetic performers are compelling ... and not without risk of altering our ideas of "live" performers for better or for worse.

Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak coined the term "Synthespians" in a 1988 experiment "Nestor Sextone for President" ... and synthetic thespians have been their passion since working on Tron and other early 3D films. As any 3D artist understands, emulating "realistic" human expressions and movements are difficult to achieve.

Camerons dedication to quality has resulted in a marvelous tapestry of artificial reality that is genuinely "immersive". As "augmented reality" visual tools become commonplace in public, dealing with Synthespians in retail settings or malls will likely become less and less discernably artificial. Faceless ATMs and retail kiosks will take on personality ... that will be personalized and will evolve for you as your preferences change. Your mobile phone habits will let these personas know who and where you are (if you allow it) ... and let them "serve you better". Potentially tricky stuff for automatons to do well without a lot of human intervention regarding "user experience".

I'm not sure I want to see a Humphery Bogart "surrogate" in a contemporary film except for cameos or such and Cameron agrees about leaving long gone movie stars alone. Popwatch discusses Camerons thoughts on keeping living stars like Clint and Cruise rejuvenated. The options are real ... and Jeff Kleiser's work for Disney on Surrogates showed a "youth-enized" Bruce Willis (a good thing considering how beat up his screen persona looked!).  

Since the technology exists, liberties will certainly be taken and mistakes made ... but qualitative standards will surely follow amidst complaints. Testing the limits is how we define new visual crafts ... and the artists role is to challenge conventions. Since "Synthespians" are here to stay, we might as well make them welcome ... and like with own my kids, I'll keep an eye on their behavior!

No comments: