While J.J. Abrams has claimed a number of times that he wants to use more practical effects to make the new generation of Star Wars films feel more "real," the usage of computer generated imagery is only growing. More and more live-action movies are creating entire scenes in post-production. Those kinds of effects will continue to get more realistic, but at what cost to productions (since things aren't exactly getting cheaper)? Post-production schedules are shrinking while effects budgets are exploding, so what are filmmakers to do? Lucasfilm, the company responsible for Star Wars, wants to take real-time CGI to the next level and revolutionize the filmmaking process. Check out some of what they are working on below.
This was a sample of how they were doing motion capture for the game 1313 that was cancelled when Lucasarts closed its doors (and this is the sort of real-time CGI they'd want to do with actors on a set):
Here are some quotes from The Inquirer from Lucasfilm's Chief Technology Strategy Officer Kim Libreri:
I think that the current way that we make movies is very pipeline stage process, takes away a little bit of the organic nature of a movie set or real environment. I'm hoping real time graphics technology brings back the creative possibilities that we have in the real world.
Let's not dismiss the artistry you put into a final shot, we do spend a lot of time steadily tweaking blooms and lens flares or the lighting in a shot, but we'll be able to get a lot closer so that more run of the mill windows replacements will be created interactively on stage.
He also added:
There's so many things that you can do with the fact that video graphics is going to be real-time and not this post-process that we've had traditionally.
If you combine video games with film-making techniques, you can start to have these real deep, multi-user experiences. Being able to animate, edit and compose live is going to change the way we work and it's really going to bring back the creative experience in digital effects.
Some of this technology if very similar to how James Cameron's Avatar was created, but they just had rudimentary CGI for the environments while doing motion capture. This sort of tech will be great for pre-visualization, but it could also be extremely helpful for production. With the advancement of 3D graphics, we'll be able to do photorealistic things completely in real-time, which could very well be good enough for the final film. While as he said you're always going to be tweaking, if you can track elements and move them around freely with your actors, it could save a ton of time in post. There will be a limit to what's possible in the near future, but if it works flawlessly, and it looks good (and you're on a soundstage where it's easy to have a number of crew members set up with computers maneuvering things as you're shooting), I don't see why productions wouldn't want to utilize something like this.
The other half of the equation is that the easier you make something, the less people might be involved, and the more jobs you'll eliminate in an industry that's already at a sort of crossroads. That's bound to happen in any industry, but I think the advantages to being able to do more on set are tremendous. None of these effects are necessarily permanent, so you'd still have room to do what you want in post.
What do you think? How could this technique be used to the advantage of filmmakers?