CGI Actors: Is Technology Taking Over the Acting Industry?

cgi actors

CGI actors in movies have become a recent topic of interest after the appearance of computer-generated Peter Cushing in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, despite the actual actor’s death 22 years earlier. Find out what to expect in the ever growing field of computer-generated imagery.

If Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) can bring our favorite actors back from the dead, who knows what effect this will have on the acting industry? Hollywood is taking the first steps to reinvent itself with the new use of actors in CGI, which may become a widespread practice in the future of film and television.

How Computer-Generated Actors Work

History of CGI

The first 3D computer animation was pioneered in 1972 by the co-founder of Pixar, Edwin Catmull. Catmull created this computer-generated hand by first creating a mold of his left hand out of plaster.

Then, he drew a few hundred small triangles and polygons on the surface of the hand model. Catmull would measure the lengths and coordinates of these shapes, then plug them into a 3D animation program to generate the CG hand.

The first realistic CGI portrayal of human movement and facial features is arguable, though movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Fight Club are notable pioneers in CGI acting and facial alteration technology.

CGI technology has obviously developed since the 20th century. New techniques are being developed every day to make computer-generated imaging more accurate and efficient.

Motion Capture

Motion capture is often used in the CGI process to create a basis for the animators’ work. A combination of infrared lights, tracking markers, and performance capture equipment (which we’ll go into shortly) records the movement of an actor in a motion capture suit. Then, this information is translated onto a digital 3D plane.

You may have seen actors wearing these motion capture suits before in behind-the-scenes footage. Using motion capture is much more efficient than filling in a character’s movement by hand.

Researchers are working on finding ways to make motion capture even more efficient. In fact, Disney’s new motion capture system uses very few sensors. This improves the actor’s performance, as the computer calculates any missing motion from the sensors.

Performance Capture

Performance capture is simply an extension of motion capture. This technology usually involves capturing the more subtle movements of the actor, such as facial expressions and finger movements.

For instance, performance capture techniques often require that actors wear a headset and paint dots (tracking markers) on their faces. Then, CGI animators can produce even more realistic and accurate results on their computer programs.

How CGI Actors Will Affect the Labor Market

A Shift in the Acting Industry

CGI actors

CGI will not replace traditional acting. The value of seeing real emotions on screen is too rich. Even though the future comes with more digitizing of the cinematic process, it also promises a vast prospect of raw performing arts for generations to come.

However, CGI could certainly make a dent in the labor market. Instead of a focus on the arts, our future is filled with job openings in technology–from animation to research to video editing.

Additionally, the way actors become celebrities is changing. No longer are hit performances in blockbuster movies prerequisite to becoming a celebrity. Many ordinary people are building their popularity through social media, blogging, and YouTube.

Instead of a complete revolution in the acting labor market, we only predict a shift. Actors will continue to pursue social status on the web. More raw forms of acting, such as YouTube videos and live streaming promos, will be on the rise.

Demand for Labor & Education

CGI actors

CGI acting will become a popular form of performance that acting students may strive to study and master. Motion-capture and performance-capture acting require just as much skill as traditional acting in nailing a role.

Thus, the desired skillset requirements in actors will adjust. Instead of just mastering traditional acting techniques, CGI equipment skills and acting techniques may be introduced into the common performing arts curriculum.

Because of the intense action scenes that many CGI performances require, more stuntmen will be in the market for a CGI job than before. Lookalikes of famous actors will also be sought after in the acting industry. Movie extras will wane, as creating groups of CGI people will become a common practice.

Furthermore, the demand for CGI artists, animators, and digital imaging developers may increase. Right now, the job growth rate prediction for actors is a whopping 10% as the demand for new movies and TV shows increases.

On the other hand, the demand for CGI artists is only about average–6%. If CGI graphics become more commonplace, then these predictions might swap.

The Future of Cinematic Technology

CGI actors

Our ability to create entire movies from CGI, such as Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, is without question. The real curiosity lies in reaching a point where the audience cannot tell the difference between CGI vs. real actors in a movie.

CGI Acting

As CGI technology becomes more commonplace, more producers will start to use it instead of other forms of performance and animation. For example, CGI actors in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story brought to attention the potential of this technology.

Rumors predict that many movies are to come in the near future with our favorite CGI deceased actors, such as Audrey Hepburn. CGI actors in commercials may decrease the costs of advertising–and open up opportunities for CGI celebrity sponsorship.

The best CGI actors may come at a fraction of the cost of traditional actors if the technology becomes more accessible over upcoming years. However, this process is slow. The first video was created in the 1800’s, but we didn’t see the prevalence of television and movies until decades later. The same may be expected of CGI.

Virtual Reality Movies

Virtual reality is definitely a thing of the future. We can already see its prevalence unfolding before our eyes. In the near future, the cinematic scene may see an increased use of VR technology.

VR consumers already have the ability to watch Netflix on their VR screens. The next step may be to create VR-based movie/video game crossovers where the user is the main character. Blockbuster production companies are already starting to come out with their own ways to incorporate VR, such as movie simulations.

Algorithmic Screenplay & Editing

CGI actors

Some cinematographers predict the use of algorithmic screenplay and editing technologies. Although many argue that such things as writing a script or directing a film can only come from human artistic abilities, technology suggests otherwise.

A.I. programs may take over the future of creativity–or at least parts of it. Because theater has been around for millennia now, we have enough information to plug into algorithms that can calculate the most successful cinematic strategies.

A.I. systems can, in theory, algorithmically write books, script movies and TV shows, and compose music. Of course, this kind of technology seems like a bit of a stretch, but we can already see the beginnings of it in modern technology.

In fact, most photo and video editing programs already have an automatic enhancement feature (e.g., Apple iMovie’s magic wand). Algorithmic video editing would simply be an extension of this software: inserting text annotations, playing royalty-free tunes, clipping and compiling content, and other creatively tailored editing tactics.

Wrap-up

As consumers, we can expect a lot out of the CGI acting industry in upcoming years. Even though CGI actors are only being used by major production companies at the moment, the technology is bound to improve.

Once new CGI technology comes along, the “old” tech of today will become more prevalent in movies, TV shows, and commercials of small-name companies. And it will only grow from there.

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Interested in a free quote? Click on the banner below–and don’t forget to leave a comment sharing your thoughts on the future of CGI actors.

CGI actors

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  • Brenna C

    What’s your favorite use of CGI acting in movies or TV? (Mine is Star Wars: The Force Awakens 🙂