James Cameron's Avatar Synthespians

Synthespians are "synthetic thespians", or artificial actors. James Cameron, director of Avatar, has been quoted as saying that the same technology that animated the Na'vis from Pandora could also be used to bring beloved actors back to the screen. But would it be ethical? And would movie-goers want to see it?

Cameron's process is very precise - even the pores of an actor's skin are imaged in the facial screening process. But the actor herself or himself, the psychological makeup and choices, cannot be scanned (yet).


(Sigourney Weaver's avatar)

“How about another Dirty Harry movie where Clint looks the way he looked in 1975?” Cameron suggests. “Or a James Bond movie where Sean Connery looks the way he did in Doctor No? How cool would that be?”

“If Tom Cruise left instructions for his estate that it was okay to use his likeness in Mission Impossible movies for the next 500 years, I would say that would be fine,” says Cameron. Less fine, at least to Cameron, is bringing long dead stars back to life. “You could put Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart in a movie together, but it wouldn’t be them. You’d have to have somebody play them. And that’s where I think you cross an ethical boundary…”

The word "synthespian" was coined by Jeff Kleiser. Kleiser and Diana Walczak created the first digital actor for their 1988 short film Nestor Sextone for President.

A year later, the pair created a short film Don't Touch Me, featuring a singing synthespian named Dozo.

Intrigued by the potential of motion capture to link natural human motion to our synthetic characters, we created Don't Touch Me, a music video piece that premiered at SIGGRAPH 1990 in which singer/songwriter Perla Batalla was optically motion captured (by Motion Analysis in Santa Rosa, CA) to drive a singing synthespian called Dozo. By this time, we had suitable flexing software for simple joints like elbows and knees, but the multi-axis requirements for the shoulder joint meant a solution was still several months of development away.

Facial animation was again created by linking digitized sculptures of various facial expressions and this technique yielded superior results to any of the software solutions of the time that sought to model the musculature of the face. Software solutions would require many years of development before they would overcome the quality and believability of the sculpture-based technique, which allowed for the preservation of facial volume and the illusion of the preservation of facial muscle integrity during motion.
(From Synthespianism by Jeff Kleiser)

SF writer William Gibson included the idea of synthespians in his 1996 novel Idoru:

"What did Blackwell mean, last night, about Rez wanting to marry a Japanese girl who isn't real?" "Idoru," Yamazaki said... "'Idol-singer.' She is Rei Toei. She is a personality-construct, a congeries of software agents, the creation of information-designers. She is akin to what I believe they call a 'synthespian,' in Hollywood."
(Read more about Gibson's synthespian)

Update 21-Jan-2010: Jeff Kleiser happened to see this article, and wrote in with exactly what I was looking for - a video showing Nestor Sextone for President. This is a compilation video; see the portion beginning at 2:00:

"Max Headroom was written and directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel (now of MJZ) and they used Matt Frewer in makeup to represent a CG character. We were poking fun at them in Nestor Sextone for President: Nestor is running for president of the synthetic actors guild, and promising that humans in makeup will no longer take work away from synthetic actors." - Jeff Kleiser

End update.

From Popwatch.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/19/2010)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 11 )

Related News Stories - (" Culture ")

The Neuroon Open Sleep Tracker For Lucid Dreaming
'Leads trail away from insertion points on her face and wrist... to a lucid dreamer on the bedside shelf.' - Peter Watts, 1999.

'Do Not Pay' Chatbots To Replace Law Firm Associates?
'I want my lawyer program.' - David Brin, 1990.

Translate One2One From IBM's Watson Your Communication Solution
'It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix...' - Douglas Adams, 1979.

News Now Philip K. Dick's Bailiwick
'A vast complex electronic organism... responsible to no one...' - Philip K. Dick, 1963.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

3D Printed Artificial Muscles Are Stronger Than Yours
Bots don't need to work out.

Fog Computing (AKA Edge Computing) Ad Hoc Networks
'The tiny devices chirped their impulse codes at one another...'

Dubai Scorpion Police Hoverbike Ready To Pull Young Kirk Over
'Is there a problem, officer?'

HEXA Robotic Help For Plants
Then some unknown race had chanced upon the dreamers and decided to "help them out."

Korean Tesla Model S Video 'Excelsior' Is Indeed Our Motto
'Improving man by bringing him close to Nature, while they combine the sensations of coasting with the interest of seeing the country well...'

DIY Robot Shoots You In The Face
'...there were automatic guns that fired ligamine darts.'

A Bayesian Approach to Safe Imitation Learning For AIs and Robots
Um, how about that pension for the humans who serve as the models for robot behavior?

Qoobo Headless Robotic Therapy Cat Was Anne McCaffrey's Idea
'...used as surrogates in intense dependency cases.'

Autonomous Cars Talk To Each Other At MCity
'My cars talk to one another.'

PUFFER Robots - From Philip K DIck's Second Variety?
'Across the ground something small and metallic came, flashing in the dull sunlight of midday.'

Russian Space Garden
'We saw the gardens, flooded with artificial sunlight...'

Targeted Neuroplasticity Training For 'Downloading Skills'
'I know kung-fu.'

U of M's MCity To Feature Asimov's Automatobuses
Should you turn autonomous buses off?

Crazyflie Drone Swarm Technology
'...Programmed to hang in space in a hexagonal grid pattern.'

Our GodBot, Who Art In Cyberspace
Vaal hungers! We must serve him.

easyJet Short-Haul Electric Jets
Have a little faith, will you? They're working on it.

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.