Digital Revolution Gathers Pace
Computer animation is changing the way movies are made, writes Stan James

IT may not be obvious to those whose breath is taken away by the astonishing Cyberworid 3-D extravaganza that a film-making revolution is not far away.

In feature movies, humans are going to be replaced by computer-generated digital characters.

It has happened in a small way with Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode One.

Then there was Final Fantasy, the boring space drama with computer generated characters accompanied with actors' voices.

The warning bells in the Screen Actors Guild should have been ringing loudly after having a look at that.

Cyberworld, the stunning IMAX 3-D compilation of dazzling dramatic, musical and cartoon scenes, shows just what is possible and how far forward the digital computer imagery has leapt in the past five years.

Cyberworld producer Steve Hoban, on the line from Los Angeles, believes Final Fantasy-style characters will replace real-life actors very soon.

"It's inevitable," Hoban says. "Live actors will never disappear completely but there's no question the first people to disappear will be stunt people. What they do is dangerous and expensive. "With a virtual animated character, there is no danger involved and the process is going to become cheaper every six months."

Hoban says that with stunt people, it takes much time to set up the scene and perform it.

"It will be cheaper and safer to do it digital and the film-makers will have more control," he says. "When you want Arnie Schwarzenegger doing something that you have a stunt man doing, it's faked and you can't see Schwarzenegger's face. It's a stunt guy.

"Now you can put a digital Schwarzenegger in. These are exciting times."

Cyberworld is a dazzling, visual smorgasbord of just how far computer-animated films have moved - with something resembling lightning speed. The creative abilities, stunning in a 3-D experience that gives new meaning to third dimension, are i in compilation. It includes a futuristic presentation of how sea creatures will evolve, a Jules Verne-style showbiz air machine and cartoon scenes from the movie Antz and Homer and Bart Simpson, a long way from their home, and in a new world.

The show is hosted by slim, trim, pretty and cool Phig, who looks and acts like a real girl. But she's just a collection of electronic blips skilfully put together.

"The 3-D technology has a long history," says Hoban. "My co-producer is head of technical production at IMAX. He was doing technical work with a couple of companies who were taking digital material created for regular feature films. One had just done the film Fly Away Home, about a girl leading wild geese on their migration path from Canada to Florida."

They took the original geese test and the data which was for usual flat screen, went back into the original data and created two "cameras", the same space apart as human eyes, and re-recorded it. There were then two strips of film for each eye. IMAX saw it and "was amazed", says Hoban.

Several years ago, Hoban's colleague was watching the movie Toy Story, which featured new, digital animation. "It occurred to him that with all the data stored in a computer, it should be possible to take it and go through the two-'camera' process," says Hoban. "You could turn Toy Story into an IMAX 3-D movie."

And to prove his point, that's what Hoban has done with the sequence from Ants in his film.

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Disclaimer: This article is from "The Advertiser" Guide entertainment liftout in South Australia. It has been put up for information purposes, and no money is being made from it.


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