The Rise of Digital Humans
Updated: Mar 4, 2020
New innovations in digital technology are now blurring the lines between what is real, and what's virtual...
In a world where the majority of our time is spent on our phones and on social media, the separation of reality and what we see on our devices is becoming a much harder line to distinguish. That Au atomic number 79 chain is looking mighty dapper on your favorite rapper's Instagram, not to mention his gender opposite holding his humerus, but do we know if what we're seeing is legit?
Let's take it the next step further, past social dynamics and general perception, to another sector that we all fall subject to. Entertainment. Movies and television are our true past time and something we consume on a daily basis. Just when you thought you had maybe escaped the digital trap of your phone, however, here digital technology pops up again on an even larger scale.
Avengers, Lord of the Rings, Fast & the Furious - all incredible tentpole movies made possible by digital technology. Although we would all love to believe The Rock himself was hanging by his fingertips off a 50 story building, we have the advent of virtual production tools to thank for this feat of bravery instead. Having experience in the world of film making, my understanding of the process is definitely elevated, but even I was taken aback at the capabilities of technology when it comes to creating a visual masterpiece.
The obvious benefit of technology is the ability to make our lives more efficient and simpler. So what efficiencies or simplicity needs to be assessed to entertainment?
Being in a room with some of the biggest players in the world of digital technology and virtual production tools was by no means an intimidating experience. Their laid back personalities, casual attire, and discussion about the upcoming Netflix blockbluster made it seem like a regular Thursday night with the crew. The Emerging Tech event put on by ICVR and Scan Truck, two game changing digital technology companies, enlisted a panel of experts that dropped a remarkable amount of knowledge. From the likes of John Canning the mastermind behind Coachella's Hologram Tupac to Ted Schilowitz the man with an actual title of "Futurist", everything you needed to know about the world of digital entertainment was covered.
Making Things Easier
The obvious benefit of technology is the ability to make our lives more efficient and simpler. So what efficiencies or simplicity needs to be assessed to entertainment? How about $200M+ budgets for one. The need for reduced costs while still providing high end results is at an all time high. Being able to recreate environments, people, and performances through the use of virtual production tools is the key to studios potentially saving millions.
Companies like Habib Zargarpour's Digital Monarch Media are implementing tools that can enable directors to completely rehearse an entire complex shoot, in the safety of a controlled environment. Everything from digital characters and landscapes can be inserted in an augmented or mixed reality format, allowing the actors to fully interact with their environment. The director can determine what looks, actions, and angles work best and even assess all the potential complexities of the intended shoot. This fully integrated virtual preview process allows them to enter an actual location and legitimately be a "one take wonder".
"They took our jobs!" Hilarious words spoken by South Park's creative social satire episode depicting the loss of worker's jobs in the show to robots. However, when it comes to the entertainment side of digital technology, robots are hardly a concern. The creators of the Scan Truck developed a literal "spaceship on wheels" in their backyard. CEO Jiggs Love and CTO Vlad Galat took innovation to the next level with their unique 3-D image scanning technology. What initially looks like a top of the line moving van from the exterior opens up to a technological marvel inside. Equipped with 210 DSLR cameras, incredible lighting, and state of the art photogrammetry technology, the Scan Truck can create a full 3D model of any subject. This model can be inserted into literally any digital environment including video games, commercials, film, and more. Just ask Will Smith, who recently visited the mobile scan unit and created a full 3D model of himself that was stretched, manipulated, toyed around with, and inserted into multiple humorous settings.
In conjunction with ICVR, this 3D scanning along with motion capture technology, is creating hyper-realistic human avatars that are proving valuable for multiple performance based visuals. Obviously, this is where the perceived threat comes into play. If you can just digitize any human being and insert them wherever needed, what happens to the traditional "performer". As the astute panel quickly debunked, we've been using "virtual" performers in some shape or form since the beginning of film making. When someone puts on makeup, they're now performing as something other than themselves. When Josh Brolin is digitized to look like the giant, purple, finger-snapping, Avenger defeating Thanos, it's still his true performance underneath all the "digital makeup". Even motion capturing under specially designed suits requires a performer to give the authentic human movements for use in other digital environments.
All in all, there's something to be said for the capabilities of this type of innovation reaching such heights. The applications of this digital technology are widespread, and what's even more impressive, is that we're still scratching the surface of the things we can do digitally. Whether you heard from Veronica Flint who develops and scripts immersive virtual reality platforms, or Adam Maier who works with virtual reality real-time technologies, there's a common thread that links everything in this digital entertainment space. Virtual productions tools are here to stay, and if you're concerned about the world being over taken by digitized humans - just check your phone, we've basically been digital avatars all along.