ITGS Syllabus

Friday, June 09, 2006

Topic 90

Use of virtual actors in films by Taro Kondo

In many of the modern films, usually ones about fantasy, virtual actors are used to give more realism to the audiences. They are neccessary for voices and motions of computer-generated figures, like aliens and gnomes. Before the time at which film directors began to set their eyes on computers and tools for producing 3D graphics, they attempted to have such figures in their films by either making actors wear costumes, or attaching very thin wires on hand-made structures so that the staff could control them from afar. Both methods lead to lack of quality of the figures when they appeared on screen. At the age of technological improvement, virtual actors resolved this problem.

In the process of constructing a 3D-graphic scene, the first step that is taken is monitoring and taping certain actors, those who would later come out on screen as 3D graphic figures. This 'motion capturing' has to be done not only from one angle, but from all around: top, bottom, front and back. To make it easier, a turn table is often used. Taking in account of the positions of shadows and the light source is essential too, because they have to be correspondant to the script.

After that, the film staff transfer the recorded data in computers and they reconstruct or digitize the visual appearance of the actors, maintaining the original movements. There are several ways for doing this, but the one performed the most is 'replacing the images with abstract models and editing from there'. What is meant here by 'abstract models' is that only the general body forms are presented, in another word, polygons. The simplification allows the 'editing', in which almost every physical characterisitcs except the 'core structure' are reshaped. Just to note, the final images can be synthesized into either real or non-real (virtual) background.

The ethical issues arising are that some of the virtual actors are demanding credits for their performances. As one example a man who provided movements for elves and orcs in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, contacted the director after the movie was aired because he did not notice his name in the closing credits. The response was that the man's contract did not mention about giving credit to him. The man acknowledged his faults of not looking at it carefully before signing it, but still argued back, "Just because they (director, staff) cover people with digital skins, they can't hide their existence." He emphasized the fact that he and the others who were digitized were 'crucial to realizing Jackson(director)'s vision.'

The reason behind this unjustness is mainly due to how the motions which are saved for making one movie can be re-used for many other movies and thus, in the long run the value of those from the eyes of the directors decrease. They feel it's unnecessary to credit the performers.

One obvious way of the film producers preventing confusions like above is to educate and clarify the merits and the drawbacks of becoming a virtual actor. The drawback, of course, is the lack of rights. There is a good point though, which is that everytime the actors' motions get re-used they receive, although less than before, money. From the producers' standpoint, another solution is to focus on inventing new technology, in which models are not needed for giving movements to graphical objects. The people who are willing to be the performers on the other hand, might want to be cautious with signing their contracts, avoiding outcomes that they didn't expect.


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