Theatre Killed The Video Star

Every now and again someone in the media writes an article about how advances in digital technologies like motion capture will make real, live actors a thing of the past on screen.

This morning, as I read the latest of these, an NPR piece about the latest Brad Pitt vehicle, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, I started to wonder what impact a world free of actors on film would have on the theatre scene.

Would it suddenly increase the attention paid to live performance? If people know they won’t get “the real Brad Pitt” (pictured in digital form, above) when they go to a movie, a premium might be placed on getting to see him live on stage.

Of course, there is currently something of a premium on celebrity actors when they occasionally pop up in shows on Broadway and in the West End, though judging by the dismal ticket sales at the moment, it seems like even the biggest movie icons (eg Jane Fonda) aren’t making people flock to the theatre.

But putting celebrities aside for a moment, I wonder if the disappearance of actors from films will actually change the face of theatre and audiences as we know it? Actors of all stripes may suddenly truly aspire to working on stage (as opposed as seeing it, as many do, as a mere stepping stone for television and film careers). Bored of sitting in front of zombies made of bits and bytes, audiences might start flocking to see plays, musicals, comedy shows and operas. Wow. Imagine that. The mind boggles.

Honestly, though, I can’t see this future coming to pass, at least not anytime soon. Which is probably a good thing, even though I do like to fantasize about how it might revolutionize theatre. The disappearance of live actors from movie screens would be a terrible thing for film art. On balance, I don’t think I’d like to see technology take over, even if it does go some way towards increasing the kudos of the stage.

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  1. says

    I was really excited to find someone writing about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button without mentioning its thirteen Oscar nominations. Instead the focus is on the technical aspects of the movie laid out in the NPR article, specifically the motion capture computer generated Brad Pitt as the title character. I had not heard or read the article until coming across your post, however I had seen the movie and I distinctly remembered wondering how exactly the young-old Ben Button was created. Though I did not let it distract me from the rest of the movie, upon finding your blog, with a link to the NPR article, I was thrilled to finally know how those first 52 minutes of the film were done.
    While most people writing about computer generated characters, including the NPR article which inspired your post, look at the effect they may have on the Hollywood acting community, your article takes a different look. Instead of focusing on those directly impacted by a switch to CGI actors, I enjoyed reading your take on what might happen to live performance and theatre if celebrities moved to the stage. Though you’ve already mentioned that currently they have not helped the box office recently, the idea of the live venue being the only performance arena to see one’s favorite actors does inspire awe. Even after disregarding the fame of an actor, you question the aspirations of the up-and-coming artist. Though it would be nice to see theatre as the desired final destination, do you think that perhaps the goal will evolve into being a model for these CGI creations instead? Regardless of how things turn out, it would be intriguing to see the theatre become as popular as films are if Hollywood were to find a way to permanently pass through the “uncanny valley” with their CGI acting creations.

  2. says

    thanks for your response to my blogpost, Jessica
    to be honest, i think that the film industry (and tv / web) will continue to provide gainful employment to actors for many many many years ahead, though who knows — maybe the stage will start to develop more of a cachet if CGI really takes hold. I am not sure what you mean by the question: “Though it would be nice to see theatre as the desired final destination, do you think that perhaps the goal will evolve into being a model for these CGI creations instead?” Please elucidate and I will endeavor to respond!

  3. says

    I apologize for the confusion regarding the wording of my question. My intent was to ask you if you believe that, perhaps instead of aiming to become a stage star if CGI were to take over Hollywood, the aspiring artist would hope to be the Light Stage model used for the CGI characters that would become the celebrities of the silver screen? Though it would not be the actor on screen, there will be the need for someone to model the movements of the characters to be animated, as well as someone to become the physical design for the CGI characters.

  4. says

    hmm. I’m not sure, Jessica
    i suspect that the more the CGI industry develops, the more actors will find employment through that avenue. but whether CGI “bodies” will ever become stars in their own right is hard to determine.