From the Editors; March 1998; Scientific American Magazine; by Rennie; 1 Page(s)
Computer scientists (and maybe a few frustrated directors) have speculated about replacing human actors with digitally synthesized performers. Special effects have become so important to films, why not clear the set altogether? In theory, "synthespians" can do anything a script requires, from professing love to singing an aria to stomping on a skyscraper. They can combine the best features of a dozen mortals: care for a leading lady with the smile of Julia Roberts, the eyes of Isabella Rossellini and the cheekbones of Rita Hayworth? The current movie Titanic features computer-generated people moving on deck, but--sorry, kid, don't call us, we'll call you--their veneer of realism cracks under scrutiny. Still, it won't be long before somebody from central (processing unit) casting is ready for his or her close-up.
For the latest episode of Scientific American Frontiers, host Alan Alda lent his form and voice to an attempt to create a "Digital Alan." He was a fitting choice for this new medium, given that he is already a veteran of film, television and the stage. The process and results are described on pages 68 and 69 of this issue and on Frontiers (check your local listings for time and channel). Remarkable though Digital Alan is, I don't think he'll be stealing any roles from the real thing. Real talent is never obsolete: performance is all about expressing humanity.