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e-enter the dragon

New technology makes it possible for karate king Bruce Lee to star in a film from beyond the grave. But, asks John Henderson, what does it mean for the next generation of movie actors if death is no longer the final curtain?

ruce Lee. who died 23 years ago.

is set to pull off the ultimate

Hollywood comeback and become the world’s first cyberstar: a computer generated image indistinguishable from the real thing. Ironically. it was the tragic on-set death of his son Brandon during filming of The Crow that heralded the first use ofthis type of technology. Lee junior was resurrected for the final scenes by using a body double with the dead actor's face digitally painted in afterwards to complete the effect. For Lee senior who will ‘appear' in an as yet unnamed sequel to his famous martial arts films the process is a little more sophisticated. Thousands of images of his face have been scanned into a computer to create a real-time 3D sculpture. which is then combined with information about his movements to create the final animation. Dialogue from his earlier films will be digitally remastered to emulate his speech.

This technological breakthrough has captured the imagination of Hollywood and the media everywhere. Suddenly it's possible to create a new film starring Marilyn Monroe. or to see the elder statesmen of Hollywood in their prime again. Alarm bells however, are sounding through the acting fraternity. If computers take over the world of celluloid, would this not spell the death of the actor?

Elliot Silverstein, president of the Artist’s Rights Foundation in America is extremely worried. ‘One day an actor's first assignment will be his last,' he said in a recent statement. ‘Once his likeness has been scanned, there will no funher work for him.‘ Silverstein is involved in the preparation of a legal test case which seeks to halt the rise of the cyberstar. ‘Legislators and politicians have scoffed at us for years. It is not science fiction any more.’ he commented.

Philip Miller of British Equity. the actors’ union. is a little more reasoned. ‘We are concerned about the impact of digital technology: but this concern is not necessarily out of fear that actors

will no longer be needed.‘ he said. ‘ln fact. we believe these new technologies can and do bring exciting new opportunities.‘ While he admits that the computer generation of extras, as happened in Brave/tear! and Forrest Gump. might spell gloom for

‘One day an actor’s first assignment will be his last. Once his likeness has been

scanned there will no further work for him.’

wannabes, he is not so worried about the future of major performers. ‘At most, it will probably be that computer generated acting will exist side by side with live acting on film. The spontaneity of live performance would probably not be able to be replicated by computer manipulation with the sophistication that audiences now read visual images'.

Miller agrees with Silverstein on the idea of legislating for all possible outcomes. ‘lt may also become incumbent upon Equity to ensure that there are new contractual provisions in the artist‘s agreements which regulate and control the type of digital manipulation that can be effected to the artist‘s performance.‘ he has said. ‘At present. British copyright laws do not offer the necessary stringency.‘

British and UK actors then or at

least their representatives * are busy preparing themselves for the rise ofthe cyberstar. And while some may find themselves competing for jobs with computer generated actors. it's worth noting that it's not just on—screen performance that will decide their fate. The fact that non-digital actors live. breathe and can appear in Hello is most definitely a point in their favour. Too many journalistic lives depend on their deeds and misdeeds. and the public is too interested in the lives and loves of the rich and infamous to allow computers to steal the limelight. After all we wouldn’t have much of a tabloid press if all they could print were pictures of Humphrey Bogan‘s grave. rather than saucy shots of scantily clad lngenaes. The new film starring the late Bruce Lee is currently in production and is due for release towards the end of this year. Watch this space for details.

Virtual star: digital iihu techniques are set to bring Bruce lee hack item the dead

Scanner covers the latest developments in media and technology. Address comments and queries to mediaList@aol.com

The List l4-27 Jun I996 97