American Association: Computing - All bit-part actors to be just bytes

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The Independent Online
THE ACTOR who never forgets the script and takes direction without question has been the dream of film directors since Marilyn Monroe enraged Billy Wilder by repeatedly fluffing lines in Some Like it Hot.

Now scientists are developing computer-generated characters that can respond to a director's whims, according to a leading researcher in the Walt Disney Imagineering company.

Traditionally, the movements and script of animated characters, like the stars of Toy Story, have had to be carefully choreographed. But advances in computerised animation will soon enable a director to deal with a cartoon in the same way as an actor.

Eric Haseltine, head of Imagineering's research and development, forsees a future where entire film sets and minor actors are computer generated, leaving only the main characters to be played by the real thing.

He demonstrated what could be done with Marge the dinosaur and Monty the professor, two computer-generated actors who can adapt their expressions and script according to what they hear. They are the forerunners of a much more sophisticated actor produced by computer software, said Mr Haseltine.

"I'm going to talk to the character, it's going to listen to what I say and it's going to behave differently based on what it understands I said. It has the capacity to amend a basic set of outputs based on what it perceives to be the inputs."

He said computerised actors have already been used in certain films. "For example in some of the opening scenes in Titanic, where there is a long shot on the boat and you see some characters walking on the decks, those are all computer-generated characters.

"So it is already being done. How much more it will be done, I don't know. There is always going to be a push to use technology and to tell stories in different ways," he said.

Just like Monroe, however, there will be limits to a future actor's ability. The computer-generated version will not have the depth of perception of a Laurence Olivier or a John Gielgud, but it will nevertheless be a quite different creature to Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.

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