tron replacing actors with computers

At the Disney D23 event we were lucky enough to speak to one of the producers of the upcoming sequel Tron Legacy. Steven Lisberger directed the first Tron back in 1982, and serves as a writer and producer this second time around. As we mentioned in a previous post, Jeff Bridges will appear in the new film as an older and a younger version of himself thanks to the latest advancements in digital technology.

With so many filmmakers relying so heavily on CGI, we wanted to know if he thought movies were getting to a point where actors could physically be replaced? Could they one day become obsolete? Dun,dun,dun….

We talked to Lisberger about the overwhelming presence of computer generated images in film and television, and wanted to know if he thinks we could one day replace actors as a whole.

You can start thinking in terms of replacing the actor as a shell, the ghost in the shell if you will. You can replace the shell, but you can’t really replace the ghost. The difference for me, is that real life has a lot of infinity to it. There are so many things that you don’t understand, that we’ll never understand, and we can’t get a handle on, and cyberspace by its very nature has an element of the finite in it. You can always break it down, you can always figure it out.

You start thinking, yeah we can have a Jeff Bridges we could replace physically but the Jeff Bridges that I know, there’s a strange brew of mystery, zen master, and crazy artist and it’s all in this non definable form. I don’t think we’re even close to saying “Oh, I’ve got a piece of software that will mimic that.” But the other one is falling, we’ve brought down that god, that statue, the physical reality we’re gonna beat that. But next comes the human software? That’s a long way away.

As time has progressed we’ve all noticed the advancements in special effects. There used to be a time when they were mostly used in sci-fi or fantasy films, but then it crossed over into action, and now the most basic drama uses some form of it. In the past few years, several movies have used CGI to heavily de-age actors to make them appear 30 or even 40 years younger than they actually are. I agree that the physical shell of an actor can be recreated but the talent and the passion behind it can not.

A good example of CGI humans shot to hell can be seen in X-Men 3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. They revamped the faces of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen to the point where they were unrecognizable. They also had a fake version of Arnold Schwarzenegger make an appearance in Terminator Salvaton as a younger model of himself. All of these incarnates of the actual actors looked horrible, and did nothing but distract me from everything else that was going on in the film.

If you look at the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, those were some grade A special effects, but even with that level of quality you knew that wasn’t Brad Pitt. You know that there’s a dwarf stand in, and that his face is digitally attached to his body. It’s like a wink to the camera. We all know it’s not real but for those two hours we sit there and pretend it is. Nothing will ever be able to replace the human spirit, whether it be in front of or behind the camera.

What’s your opinion on real actors verses CGI? Do you think they stand a chance?