Future of Movies: Pre, Post and Reload!

In my last column, I discussed how virtual movie sets coupled with the collaborative presence of a distributed production team and virtual (but live) actors could save a significant part of the cost of a major film production. We have shown that this can be done today with commercially available hardware and software.

To the best of my knowledge, no company has created a collaborative real-time virtual 3D pre-production set yet but it is just a matter of time now. Someday soon, a movie pioneer will invest in the necessary 3D hardware and software but save a lot on the production cost. At the same time, he will have better control of set appearance, lighting, camera action and actor performances than ever before.

Let us take the final leap and imagine that our movie is a success. After the studio executives have collected revenues from the initial box office ticket sales, TV rights, DVD rights and merchant rights (you get the picture), they may start thinking: “So, we have these fantastic 3D sets just sitting on our servers. Some have procedural, even interactive characters, with the ability to add live characters which can be controlled by live performers from anywhere in the world, much like a live Mickey Mouse character on the sidewalks of Disneyland. Why not allow the unwashed masses to visit this wondrous land for a reasonable fee?”

Why not indeed? After all, hundreds of millions of consumers today have broadband access and most have a decent enough graphics card in their PC’s that will allow them to enjoy an interactive experience inside the same familiar environment they just viewed in a movie.

Major motion picture studios often release video games to accompany an action movie, sometimes on the same day as the movie premiere. Occasionally, they reuse some digital assets but, even so, the traditional game production process can add a significant cost to the film production. Typically, two different production teams with two different cultures are involved, adding to the overall cost and time.

The solution is to unify the two productions into one team right from the beginning. Rather then use expensive programming resources to add hardwired effects to a game version of a movie, producers could build one version of the movie assets and rely on live performers to add true emotions and drama to movie and/or game characters which are able interact live with an online audience.

Over time this could grow to a new artform, one resembling a theater experience but with a worldwide audience. Real-time performers, like musicians, could stage live online performances to reach a significant audience without the cost of building a physical stage and transporting it all over the world. If you have visited a major trade show lately, you have noticed that the number of participants and the booths themselves are getting smaller as companies are more hesitant to invest into larger booths simply because of the transportation costs involved.

Unlike regular live stage performances, it would be easy to record staged events in full 3D (using motion capture, for example) for consumers to download. The events would still retain some elements of interaction, for example, users could walk on stage and dance next to the Rolling Stones members, playing air guitar during “Brown Sugar,” or stand face-to-face with a prerecorded, but realistic-looking Keith Richards 3D avatar.

Finally, since all assets exist in a synthetic 3D space on studio servers, producers could reuse these assets easily for follow-on productions, such as an interactive 3D music video where the Rolling Stone members play “Brown Sugar” on a sunny meadow by the lake instead of on a stage. Better yet, let movie goers race cars through downtown Atlanta while sitting next to Mick Jagger or, if they get bored, chase Mick’s Jaguar with a rented Hummer2.

But back to the movie business. Male visitors to a virtual Pinewood Studios could have the option to replace Bruce Willis in his cab, driving peacefully in the movie “Fifth Element” when suddenly Milla Jovovich drops in and with tears in her eyes says: “Pleeease!” Women could be persuaded to board that last plane leaving Casablanca with the live (or recreated) Humphrey Bogart. Kids could have a blast being an ant in Bugs Life3 or a little kid inside Transformers4. The possibilities are endless.

Of course, there are a few dangers lurking. Critics may bring up the Fahrenheit 451 dystopian book burning or a memento of a hedonistic and anti-intellectual America but that is surely a small price to pay for newly accrued benefits, keeping producers safe and comfortable in their East Hampton villas, Gwyneth in her London loft and, above all, viewers everywhere glued to their sofas in their living rooms.

Roman Ormandy is the CEO of Caligari Corporation. Caligari was founded in 1986 and has remained at the forefront of 3D authoring for the Web age.


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