Bruce Lee, Audrey Hepburn and the ethics of digital necromancy -Hannah Ellis-Petersen

The American actress, Janet Leigh was born in 1927 and died in 2004 at the age of 77. My last project, Don’t Have Nightmares 0.1, involved taking a segment of icon cinematic footage from the film Psycho and animating approximately 28-seconds. In order to get a realistic likeness of Janet Leigh, enlarging the film resolution enabled me to analyse information such as light and shadow on her face, body and hair with greater visibility and more clarity. However, I still needed still images and other footage of the actress as it was difficult to animate blurry footage due to the shower water. By using digital technology, I could scan a person who was 32 years old at the time and manipulate her image with some moderate success. It was the first time I had employed digital necromancy in an art project. It got me thinking, with more advanced software tools, a technically skilled team of animators, time and of course consent from the Leigh family or whoever holds her image rights, Janet Leigh could continue to star in films 10 years after her death. It seems that resurrecting dead screen stars is becoming more prevalent in cinema/television these days. A few weeks ago I came across an engaging article in The Guardian (below) by Hannah Ellis-Petersen.  I’ve read quite a few articles like this over the past year. It makes you wonder, with all the increasing digital technology, will using human actors for films just become some antiquated, archaic concept?

The Guardian, Saturday, 11th April 2015 

Bruce Lee, Audrey Hepburn and the ethics of digital necromancy

by Hannah Ellis-Petersen

Recent figures show posthumous earnings by celebrities from their likeness now exceeds £1bn, with some selling image rights before death
In Arthur C Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century, his 1986 novel speculating what a day in the 21st century might look like, Clarke envisions a cinema listing of the future.
“Still Gone with the Wind: The sequel picks up several years after where the 80-year-old original left off, with Rhett and Scarlett reuniting in their middle age, in 1880. Features the original cast (Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, and Vivien Leigh) and studio sets resurrected by computer graphic synthesis. Still Gone sets out to prove that they do make ‘em like they used to.”
Clarke’s book was pure science fiction, but almost 30 years later his predictions have proved prescient. Death, once the finite end to a celebrity career, is now only a marker for the next stage, and digitally resurrected celebrities – be they Paul Walker or Audrey Hepburn – are now posthumously making their way back onto our screens.

But such digital necromancy is raising concerns. It was announced at the end of March that plans are in the works to digitally insert Bruce Lee, 42 years after his death, into Ip Man 3, the third film in a series about his former teacher. It’s not the first time computer graphics (CG) technology have been used to bring the martial arts star back to life on screen – his digitally reanimated figure recently starred in an advert for Johnnie Walker Blue whisky. However, the Bruce Lee estate is now seeking legal action to prevent his CG likeness appearing in the film, with their lawyer stating the family are “justifiably shocked” at the idea.
It is perhaps to stop such situations that Robin Williams, it was revealed last week, signed a deed to prevent his image, or any likeness of him, being used at least 25 years after his death. It restricts any posthumous exploitation of the actor, be it through the use of CG to digitally resurrect him in Mrs Doubtfire 2 or as a live hologram performing comedy on stage – something that the advancement of technology has made an increasingly likely occurrence.
Indeed, recent figures have shown that the posthumous earnings made by celebrities from their image or likeness alone now exceeds £1bn, with some, such as Muhammad Ali, even selling their image rights before death so they can reap the profits while still alive.
While the practice has mainly been restricted to finishing off performances of actors who died midway through filming – such as Paul Walker in Fast and Furious 7 – it has also been utilized by advertisers, keen to attach famous faces to their brands. Most notable is the recent reanimation of Audrey Hepburn in an advert for Galaxy chocolate.
Mike McGee, the co-founder and creative director of Framestore, the special effects studio who won an Oscar for Gravity, was in the team responsible for the Audrey Hepburn reanimation and said it still required “vast” amounts of work to make the replicas appear alive. However, he predicted the phenomenon of reviving dead celebrities was only just beginning.
It took Framestore four months of work to create the lifelike Audrey Hepburn, for just 60 seconds of advert, and managed it by using a combination of old photographs and a body double to build an accurate CG digital form of everything from her skin to her eyelashes – even going on location to get the lifelike light and shadow.
“We found that we could create a realistic still image of Hepburn quite quickly but as soon as she has to move, turn her head or open her mouth, that’s when things can start to look uncanny, when things don’t look 100% real,” he said.
“The human eye can spot it because we’re so used to looking at our own reflection, so we subconsciously know all those tiny details and it’s that final 5% of realism that takes the most time to achieve. It’s all about getting the moisture in the eyes to look right, getting the eyelids to flutter correctly when someone blinks, the corner of someone’s lips to turn up a little just before they smile, because it’s those subtle signal and movements that make a great performance by any actor. And to ask an animator to copy that onto a computer model and capture a human performance is really challenging.”
He added: “I do think this will happen more and more. As the technology develops, I see no reason that in the future we wouldn’t see a CG performance by a dead actor up for a Bafta or an Oscar.”

Don’t Have Nightmares 0.1 (2015)

Sink (1999) – Satoshi Tomioka

Satoshi Tomioka was born in Nagoya in Japan in 1972. At graduate school, Tomioka studied hydrodynamics at Tokyo University. He became interested in computer graphics while working part-time for a graphics company. After graduating he worked for Dream Pictures Studios until the studio closed down in 1999. He now works at his own studio Kanaban Graphics which received success for the series Usavich, a series of animated short films for MTV’s Japanese mobile service ‘Flux’.

Sink (1999) was Tomioka’s first film which is based on his own experiences commuting on the Tokyo underground. In the film, Tomioka depicts his subjects (businessmen) in an underwater world. Poking fun at them as they ogle at pornographic imagery. Tomioka’s imagery of the Tokyo metropolis is an extremely vivid and colourful one. Toy-like trains glide through illuminated tunnels. There are some captivating angles taken from inside the train. For example, at 0.54 the scene features the intensity of a packed commuter train so packed, train seats are not evident. Another angle focuses on views of the surrounding cityscape, skyscrapers bearing down on the inhabitants and the ubiquitous advertising hoardings completely mapping vertical structures. Sink portrays aspects typical of Japanese social realism in the 90s. Tomioka’s interpretation of Tokyo commuters is played with tongue and cheek; a society dictated and ruled by businessmen with sexually repressive characteristics living a monotonous existence. Having researched on Tomioka, there are suggestions that the shy and reclusive filmmaker is depicting himself in this manner. There are aspects of the animation I can clearly identify with and I would imagine my project will feature similar viewpoints of Japanese society.

Sink (1999)  

Mary Moore on Damien, the narrative, life with Henry and digital art

Came across this interesting article in the Guardian yesterday. Mary Moore, daughter of the sculptor Henry Moore gives us her views on a few issues notably on digital art (in bold). Below are selected extracts from the article.

Damien Hirst set back art by 100 years, says Henry Moore’s daughter | Art and design | The Guardian. Damien Hirst has set back art by 100 years, according to the daughter of Henry Moore, the man who arguably changed British sculpture more than any other artist.

Mary Moore said her father, who died in 1986, had challenged the narrative and formally-presented artwork of the Victorian era. “What he did was come along and take it out of the frame in a very weird way,” she told the Guardian. “I think Damien Hirst put it back in the bloody frame and art is all now in the frame and what you forget is how radical it is that it’s not in the frame. “[Henry Moore’s art] is not narrative, it’s not contextual, it is about exploring the invented object in front of you.”  Moore was speaking before a major exhibition exploring her father’s relationship with land. More than 120 works will be on indoor and outdoor display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, including a room curated by Moore offering a personal insight into how her father worked.

The issue with the work of Hirst and others was that it relied on title and the cube it was in, she said. It was much more about having to read the label to know what was going on.  Henry Moore’s work was more gut instinct, confronting an unusual sculpture which, she said, could be so many different things from different angles.  “Art has gone back into a frame, it has gone back to being a contextual, narrative thing which is actually where we were with the pre-Raphaelites,” she said. 

The show is particularly significant for two reasons. Henry Moore was born only 15 miles away in Castleford, in 1898, and played an important role in helping the park become what it is back in the late 1970s.

Mary Moore was treated like an adult from a young age and the games she played were about form and shape and judging distance. “I really enjoyed them. They were all really exercises in using your mind and sensing form and spatial distance.

“He wasn’t training me, he was playing a competitive game about things he was thinking about all of the time.”  Moore said she worried, in the digital age, that we were losing our skills to see things properly.  “We don’t look at things, it’s terrifying, it’s happening more and more and more. People see two-dimensionally on their phones and laptops and iPads; they don’t see shapes or understand form. “My father always used to say: ‘How would you draw my hand, this side is dark, this side is lit.’ He was constantly making you think about form.

Arguments Against Mary: Hang on a minute, Mary! Digital artists still need to know a thing or two about art. For example, colour theory, drawing ability, shading, toning, pressure on stylus and of course eye coordination, well, that’s if you’re not rich enough to own a cintique (like me). Also, didn’t artists learn from technology back in the 17th century? Camera obscura.

What’s your take on Mary’s views?

Maquette No 2: Film (Part 3)

Filming

The animated rotoscope and motion picture footage were played on a loop while I filmed the interior of the maquette. Around 10 sequences were shot in total. Each sequence being between 15-30 seconds in duration. For continuity purposes, I intended to film all the footage on a tripod. However, difficulties arose with cinematography issues (i.e. framing, filming (blurred vs in focus) and obtrusive light getting into shot). Though filming hand-held gave me more freedom, I wasn’t particularly pleased with the overall tests and as a result, I scraped most of the hand-held test footage.

By filming an area of the bathroom, I could focus on other objects; moving away from the animated/motion picture shower scene. By doing so I could build a tension between object and subject. The inspiration came from Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965). The black and white film is predominantly shot in an apartment. Polanski builds psychological tension focusing on inanimated objects for lengthy periods of time. I experimented in similar style using a penetrating buzzing sound to enhance the tension and to create a disturbing fusion with the soft lounge music and the fierce electric saw audio.

Watercolour and Lighting

The watercolour paint and lighting failed (gloriously!). My intention was for the watercolour paint to slowly drip down the cling film. Slow moving slimy liquids are considered a cliché in contemporary horror films. To fulfil my aim without involving digital effects would be something of an achievement. However, while filming I continually kept painting on the cling film. Due to the heat from the monitor, the paint just dried in seconds. Also, the monitor light was too bright that the paint became silhouetted. I had far better results using the PET bottle. When constructing Maquette No 3, I’ll use the same technique again but employ alternative strategies such as a lighter interior, acrylic paints and my daughter as an art assistant perhaps?  As for the decoration lights, they were far too weak and didn’t have any overall impact though I was encouraged with subtle gentle flickering.

 

Daniel Rozen’s The Wooden Mirror/’Kirishin’ Exhibition-Nobuyoshi Araki

After scanning the Tokyo Metropolis Arts and Entertainment guide last Thursday evening, I didn’t see much in the way of exhibitions which caught my attention. Then, I noticed that I had just missed an exhibition at the Bunkamura in Shibuya which featured a piece of work (The Wooden Mirror) by Daniel Rozen. I had noted him at The Digital Revolution for his innovative piece called Mirror Number 10. The Wooden Mirror follows similar themes to Mirror Number 10. See below:

Anyway, I decided that as I had not been a photography exhibition for a while, that would be my aim. Finally, I came across an exhibition by the photographer and contemporary artist, Nobuyoshi Araki. I’m familiar with his work which to some is considered extreme and disturbing, I suppose it depends on how you interpret his work. He’s collaborated with quite a few famous artists over the years. I recall a collaboration with the musician, Bjork back in the 90s. His current exhibition is called ‘Kirishin’. There isn’t a direct translation for this word but the nearest is something like cutting photos with sentimentality. Basically, a play on words but as I later found out, the artist had been recently diagnosed with retinal artery occlusion that has caused the loss of his right eye. This explained the title of his last exhibition, ‘Sagan No Koi’ (Love in the left eye) and connections to his current exhibition. The 30 photographs printed from slide film and then cut and pasted together. Most of the images depict urban areas, daily life and humour. The awkwardly cut images suggest his state of mind from the loss of his eye. I wasn’t awestruck by this work but what I did get out of it was how the emotional narrative was clearly evident in Araki’s work and the methods he used to convey his state of mind.

Image from Kirishin exhibition by Nobuyoshi Araki