Tag Archives: CGI

Stunt Performers And CGI, Integrity and Life, Art vs. Ethics

Stuntwoman Joi ‘SJ’ Harris was killed in a motorcycle accident last month while filming “Deadpool 2.”  Her death occurred not long after stuntman John Bernecker perished in a fall on the set of “The Walking Dead.” Even though CGI technology would not have saved Harris or Bernecker, their deaths have re-ignited a controversy that began surfacing almost 20 years ago, and it is more bewildering now that it was then. Moreover, it will only get worse.

The question: Does it make sense—and is it ethical—to endanger human beings in filmed stunts when they can be accomplished using computer technology?

Interestingly, a case could be made that movie stunts are safer than ever. Bernecker’s death represented the first stunt-related fatality in the US since 2002 (Harris’s death was in a Canada shoot.) This represents great progress from the wild and woolly days of cinema’s pioneers, when actors like Douglas Fairbanks performed insane stunts for stunned moviegoers, and maniacal directors like D.W. Griffith bullied actors into taking life-threatening risks. For example. in this famous sequence, Lillian Gish waited for actor Richard Barthelmess to rescue her from a real ice flow that was on its way over a real waterfall as a frozen river broke up:

Many actors have died, and in the modern age when few stars are allowed to do dangerous stunts (one exception is Tom Cruise,  who broke his ankle last month roof-jumping on the set of “Mission: Impossible 6”), many stunt performers as well.  From 1980 to 1990, 40 stunt-related deaths occurred in the US. Computer technology has made the stunts safer, but if real people aren’t placing their bodies at risk, movies just aren’t as exciting….or profitable.

“It’s a terribly fine line when it comes to guaranteeing safety, because in reality there is no guarantee,” says Andy Armstrong, who has done stunt coordination for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Thor,” “Planet of the Apes” and “Total Recall.” “If these stunts were common, you wouldn’t want it in the movie. So you’re invariably asking someone to do something outside the box, which is where it becomes so difficult to regulate.”

Now dramatic improvements in the technology make an ethics examination unavoidable. “When CGI first came about, stunt people thought, ‘that’s the end of our business, everyone’s going to be replaced by computers’,” Armstrong says. “That hasn’t happened, because there’s still a certain authenticity to seeing a real human do something.” Yes, but at what cost? Is that authenticity worth the inevitable deaths of human beings?

Movie artists say yes, and stunt performers don’t want to be put out of business. As with pro football, the beneficiaries of proposals to eliminate the deadly risks in their profession don’t want to be saved. Continue reading

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UPDATE: Cyber-Zombie Peter Cushing And The Prospect Of Cyber-Zombie Carrie Fisher Remind Actors To Fight For Control Of Their Post-Mortem Acting Career

cgi

It looks like I wasn’t the only one who felt that Peter Cushing was being abused by finding himself in “Rogue One” without his prior consent. Of the late actor being digitally inserted into a role he never agreed to play and deliver lines he never contracted to deliver, I wrote…

The emerging technology raises many ethical issues that didn’t have to be considered before, but when it comes to using a dead actor in a new role, the ethics verdict should be easy. It’s unethical, unless a performer  gives informed consent for his image to be used post mortem in this fashion. Presumably, the consent or the lack of it will be part of future negotiations and standard contracts. Actors who agree to have their images used as cyberslaves will also probably want to limit the uses of their names and images.

Cushing’s exploitation and the subsequent death of Carrie Fisher with widespread speculation that she would soon be added to the “Star Wars” franchise’s army of CGI clones have now sounded the alarm loudly. But apparently many actors were already aware of the threat, and taking affirmative action to control their destinies. Continue reading

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“Rogue One” Ethics: Peter Cushing Returns From The Grave

He's baaaaack!

He’s baaaaack!

Hammer Films horror icon and Christopher Lee foil Peter Cushing died in 1994 from prostate cancer. That couldn’t stop the makers of the latest “Star Wars” movie from bringing his image back from the grave.  The gaunt-faced British actor—an early “Doctor Who”!—played Grand Moff Tarkin in the original “Star Wars,” a bad guy, Cushing’s specialty. Since “Rogue One,” the current addition to the series, is a prequel, Tarkin is alive again (he went down with the Death Star in Episode IV). Instead of recasting the part, the producers decided to recreate Tarkin/Cushing using CGI technology. Lucasfilm-owned digital effects house Industrial Light & Magic reanimated Cushing’s likeness so that a recognizable Tarkin could make a convincing  appearance in “Rogue One.” The results are not perfect, but it is still one step closer to allowing future movies to cast avatars of long dead stars to interact seamlessly with live performers.

We have recently seen actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jeff Bridges and Anthony Hopkins digitally youthened, but forcing a dead actor’s image to perform is a different matter entirely. The use of computer animated images of dead performers to do the bidding of their director masters evokes memories of “Looker,” a science fiction film directed and written by the late Michael Crichton of “Jurassic Park” and “Westworld” fame. In that 1981 movie, a corporation transferred the images of living models to a computer program that could use the new cyber-models to do and say anything more effectively and attractively than the models themselves in television ads. Then the company had the models killed—less residuals that way.

The emerging technology raises many ethical issues that didn’t have to be considered before, but when it comes to using a dead actor in a new role, the ethics verdict should be easy. It’s unethical, unless a performer  gives informed consent for his image to be used post mortem in this fashion. Presumably, the consent or the lack of it will be part of future negotiations and standard contracts. Actors who agree to have their images used as cyberslaves will also probably want to limit the uses of their names and images. No porn films, for example. No uses of an actor in a role he would have never agreed to playing while alive. Don’t make John Wayne shoot someone in the back. Don’t show Fred Astaire as clumsy on his feet; don’t make Jimmy Cagney a weenie.

Allowing another actor to use a dead one’s face and body, like Andy Serkis wore his cyber King King suit, is a closer call. If it is clear that the dead actor isn’t the one doing the acting, and that digital technology is being used as the equivalent of make-up, maybe that practice is just icky rather than unethical, provided the credits are clear.To make Cushing’s Tarkin live again on screen, “Rogue One’s “film-makers hired Guy Henry, a 56-year-old British actor who resembles Cushing. Henry played the part of Tarkin on the set, then the tech wizards transformed him into a Cushing clone. Continue reading

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Annoyances For The Obsessing Traveling Ethicist

Hepburn

I just got home from another day trip, and am too weary to essay a significant post. Allow me, instead, to give readers a taste of what goes through one’s mind when you have begun to focus exclusively on ethics in preparation for a key, out-of-state presentation:

  • The incompetence of supposed professional broadcasters. Shortly before leaving for the airport on Sunday, I watched the local Fox affiliate report on the new Vogue cover, featuring Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. One of the two anchorwomen noted that there was a parody of the cover titled “Vague” featuring Kermit and Miss Piggy in the same poses. She pronounced it as “Vagg.” Her partner did not correct her. I think newsreaders should be able to read, don’t you?
  • Dishonesty in headlines. With the Kardashians still gnawing at my brain, I noticed an issue of “Star” in an airport magazine rack. The headline read, “Kardashians Cancelled!” Filled with momentary hope for civilization, I looked up the corresponding story in the rag. It stated that cable’s “Keeping Up With The Kardashians had been renewed, but that the family was worried that it might be cancelled next year. Yes, the headline was “X” and the story was “Not X.” I don’t care that the Star is just a glossy paper tabloid—how can anyone justifying this? Deceitful headlines are bad, but at least they are literally true, if misleading. Tabloid ethics are as low as ethics can be, but this flat-out false cover headline seems to have breached them… a neat trick.
  • More  incompetence of supposed professional broadcasters. CNN’s John Berman showed a clip of Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton with Jimmy Kimmel and said…”Next…what Jimmy Kimmel did with three generations of Clintons.

Continue reading

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KABOOM! Bloomberg: “Well, I Hear These Guys Do A Good Job, So Let’s Give The Contract To Them!”

head_explodes

From an exclusive in the New York Daily News:

“In one of its final acts, the Bloomberg administration pushed through a costly contract to modernize the city’s 311 call system — hiring the same company fired by the feds for the botched rollout of the Obamacare website. The city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, known as DoITT, awarded the contract to the Montreal-based company CGI on Dec. 31, hours before Bill de Blasio was sworn in as mayor.”

This isn’t even an incompetent U.S. company. It’s based in Montreal. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Steven Spielberg

The dwarf in the cloth monkey suit is just fine, thanks.

In a long, entertaining interview in the current issue of Entertainment (naturally!), director Steven Spielberg expresses regret over his decision to change his 1982 classic “E.T.” for its 2002 re-release, and vows never to do such a thing again. Here he splits off from the philosophy of his pal George Lucas, who continues to fiddle with his past films as technological upgrades become possible. Spielberg:

My philosophy is now that every single movie is a signpost of its time, and it should stand for that. We shouldn’t go back and change the parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” just because with the digital tools we have now we can make it even more spectacular than it was.” Continue reading

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