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You Could Have A Crush On A Digital Celebrity


Authored by super special guest contributor and honorary MamaPop Bestard, Travis of The Holmes

Some friends of mine hold an Oscar party every year where all the guests receive a list of the nominees when they walk in the door. Everybody is supposed to go through the list and select their picks for the winners in every category, and whoever gets the most right gets a prize or some shit. My choices in this little game are never anything more than guesses, some perhaps informed a bit by hype I may have heard on the news, others complete shots in the dark. I’ve yet to win any prizes, but I make it through. Somehow.

See, It’s a pretty sure bet when Oscar time rolls around that I will not have seen any of the nominees. Maybe one if I’m lucky. I have this bad habit of not getting out much. The last movie I saw in the theater was this piece of shit called The Uninvited, an atrocious remake of the far superior Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters. And even though I live in a town with plenty of theaters that serve alcohol, I ended up seeing this bit of celluloid swiss cheese at a dry cinema. A different venue would have probably made a significant difference in my opinion of the film’s quality. I saw Freddy vs. Jason in the theater back when it came out, but in that case I saw it at Austin’s beloved Alamo Drafthouse, a place that shows movies the way they should be seen. They offer a plentiful variety of beer, some wine, pizza, burgers, wings, desserts, all served by waiters that bring it right to you and know how to walk hunchbacked so they don’t block the screen. By the time the blood started spurting, I had already made a nice dent in my first bucket of brew. I stumbled out of the theater insisting to all in earshot that it was absolutely a shoe-in for best picture.

Which is all just a long way of telling you that I have not yet seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I want to see it, I’ve heard nothing but good, I just, you know, haven’t gotten around to it. But I heard a little snippy on the radio today that got me extra intrigued to check it out. Obviously, the film is only made possible by massive amounts of special effects, but what I didn’t realize was that many of the images of Pitt that show up in the film aren’t him at all. In fact, the first third of the movie contains not a scrap of footage of anybody named Brad Pitt. It’s a copy of his pretty mug that some very smart people made on a computer and then aged via their digital sorcery. They managed to get all the details so right on, so perfectly human, that they managed to cross this thing that people in the special effects industry refer to as the Uncanny Valley, that weird place between that which is clearly human and that which is something that is supposed to look human, but is somehow just off. And we find that offness disturbing, as if we can look in the eyes of that computer generated visage and see the space where the soul is supposed to go.

But now they seem to have found a way to plug that little hole. The ineffable has been, to some degree, effed. Which brings up the obvious question, what does this mean for actors? Sure, the Benjamin Button performance wouldn’t have been possible without Brad Pitt, but the thing about technology is that it doesn’t rest. It’ll inevitably get better, easier, and cheaper, cheaper even than, say, a Hollywood star’s per-picture minimum. Oh what’s that Miss Roberts? You won’t do Oceans 31 for less than 25 million? No problem, the studio just bought a new Macbook. And even more importantly, it will reach the point where we simply will not be able to tell the difference. Could it be that Hollywood actors will one day find themselves following in the footsteps of their grainy silent ancestors?

Realistically, probably not any time soon, which is cool. It’s nice to look at the screen and know that it’s a human being up there sweating out that performance. But still, there’s a part of me that welcomes the advance of this kind of filmmaking. I like the idea of focusing so intently on humanness that we come to understand it down to its finest detail. This is what actors, directors, writers, storytellers, and the like have been doing for ages, but I find a weird comfort in the idea that we can come to understand things like comic timing, moodiness, anger, self-delusion, happiness, or fear so deeply that they can be broken down into billions of lines of code.

Of course, we can’t get rid of actors because we love our celebrities. We need them, if only to keep sites like this one going. But fuck it, once the technology is solid enough to take the place of actors in films, we could just make up some celebrities. A CGI actress could take home best supporting for her portrayal of Chelsea Clinton. When beloved actors die, we could just keep it all under wraps and replace them with a CGI version. Christian Bale could be making movies until 3030. For all I know, this has already been done. I mean, I’ve never personally met Brad Pitt, who am I to guarantee he’s not just an executable file that gets passed around on a flash drive? And just think of what this technology could do for biopics. Henry Rollins has suddenly died in a horrible bench-pressing accident, and you want to cash in by making a film of his life? Don’t worry about the casting, just cast Hank himself.

Wow. We are living in the future.

. . . . .
Visit Travis at The Holmes

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Just wait until the porn industry gets hold of this.

ms martyr

This may only be somewhat on topic. Someone was telling me about the 911 conspiracy that the US government was behind the Twin Towers destruction. One of their arguments was that there was film footage on the Internet showing how the collapse must have been generated by preset explosives.

Your post reinforces my belief on how easy it is now to create realistic scenarios. You can no longer believe everything you "see" because chances are its been tweaked.


The first time I think I noticed this was in the X Men movie, where "they" made Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan into younger versions of themselves. "They" being the Illuminati, who control everything, including the CGI Factory that the movies use.


For the most part, I appreciate your take on all of this. The breakdown of this Valley was especially interesting.

But I'm not sure if I agree with you on the last bit there.

Yes, computers are bridging the gap between what is clearly human and clearly not -- in the physical sense. How we perceive that false reality is a mental process, but it's still rooted in the physical.

That said, comedic timing, empathy, anger -- the spectrum of vocal emotion -- are things that I don't think any computer can truly break down. The raw understanding of the text is, as we see in this type of animation, the part that can't be faked. It's what will keep actors in place, and rightfully so.

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