How Tech Could Help Creators Look Before They Leap
October 8, 2022
It is summer — a time when a lot of us get to see new movies, many of which totally suck. The folks who made The Emoji Movie apparently were worried about its Rotten Tomatoes score (it had earned a 0 percent rating at one point, based on a scattering of early reviews), so they stopped critics from publishing further reviews until just before previews began running. The result was a great opening day, but attendance fell off sharply because, well, the movie sucked.
It would seem to me, from an analyst’s perspective, that it would be far better to figure out how to make movies that don’t suck than to come up with creative ways to get people to see movies they won’t like. The issue is that directors and studios seem to be more focused on deadlines than on quality, but that reminds me of the old bicycle joke: A girl sees her friend walking his bike to school. She asks why, and he says he is late and doesn’t have time to mount the bike.
A derivative of the technology that we should — but generally don’t — use when we are building or remodeling a home could fix this. Filmmakers could emulate a movie fully — before even choosing the actors — and then test the result. So, why don’t they?
I’ll close with my product of the week: a new heads-up display for motorcycle riders that could provide the same kind of voice-activated capabilities now available in a high-end car.
I’m a big believer in simulation, particularly when it comes to designing a home or doing a major remodeling job. Cost overruns generally result from change orders, and they would be avoidable if you made those changes to the simulation and not to the project in progress.
For instance, when my wife and I were working on building a home in Belize, we spent a few thousand dollars on the creation of a 3D walk-though simulation (which we posted here). It allowed us to look at design elements, flooring, wall covering, appliances and house features long before the house was built. Changing any element virtually was a trivial cost, compared to changing the physical element once the house was under construction.
One of the not-to-secret secrets of home building is that the general contractor typically bids close to cost to get the business but makes a profit on change orders. So, if you can get comfortable with your build or remodel before the contractor starts, you’ll likely have a real bargain when the work is done.
Still, using an architectural rendering or walk-though simulation is still the exception and not the rule. Buyers just don’t seem to demand this approach very often.
Movies in and of themselves are simulations, but there are far cheaper ways to create them than hiring live actors and going on location. Video game engines can be used to render a movie in close to real time, and fans have created some interesting videos.
Game engines like Unity can be used to create impressively detailed animated movies very rapidly. They aren’t quite cinema quality yet, but they are close enough to get a sense of staging and script, and to convey the overall pace and tone of the movie.
In other words, you could create a game engine-sourced emulation of a movie and put it in front of a test audience, and — particularly for films based on books — you could render much more of the story than the final movie would include and then decide, based on audience feedback, which sections to cut, and which sections fans of the book felt were critical to their enjoyment.
Many projects fail on that score. When the fan connection to the material is severed, the necessary advocacy to fuel attendance doesn’t materialize. For example, John Carter (based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars series) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (based on the 1960s television series), two well-acted and directed movies that failed to reach expected movie sales, show evidence of this problem.
Folks who had read the Burroughs books were older, and there were elements of the story that were more steampunk than magical — like the air vehicles, for example. Also, the wardrobe for female characters made doing this under the Disney banner problematic.
In The Man from U.N.C.L.E., there was no U.N.C.L.E. How do you make a movie with the name of the organization in it and not actually have it in the movie? A lot of what made The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series fun was the technology, the hidden office, and the characteristic quips, all of which were left out of the movie.
A test audience should be able to point out problems like these — but only if they have something to watch. Using a game engine for movies — much like using architectural simulations for houses and buildings — should allow the industry to make fewer bad ones.
One of the secondary benefits would be a ready package of cut scenes for a game (here is a decent Superman movie made entirely from a game’s cut scenes). Even animations of parts of a book that don’t make the final movie could be viewed in-line, making subsequent home movie and disk sales more interesting and potentially more profitable.
We can do far more with simulation than we are now doing in several areas. From the structures we build to the movies we create, we have an increasing capability to emulate in advance and avoid the costs of failure. However, much like that bicycle joke, there is the sense that testing takes too much time and will push back deadlines.
I think it would be better to risk a movie being a little late to avoid being a failure, especially since doing the emulation in the first place likely would remove many of the problems that typically delay movies. In short, emulation might result in the movie being completed faster, better and cheaper. Done right, it should.
So, why don’t we see more projects start with a game engine emulating the movie? Likely because that isn’t the way things have been done, and we are slow to pick up new tricks as a race. Given how many movies are mostly CGI anyway, you’d think emulation would be commonplace by now. Sadly, as I watch The Dark Tower fall, it isn’t. Now that’s a movie that clearly was subjected to way too many changes after it was filmed.
I certainly can see a future when the movie pitch is a game engine-sourced emulation of the movie, so that the folks pitching it know up front what the studio wants changed, and the folks funding the picture can get a better idea if the project is viable before they commit. This should result not only in fewer truly bad movies, but also in a lot of YouTube game engine-sourced movies that otherwise would have died during the pitch.
I’ve been watching the head-mounted display segment for a while, because I used to love motorcycle riding, but the solutions for using GPS or listening to music while riding were either bad or unsafe. Ideally, what was needed was a combination of a head-mounted display and smartphone accessory. There have been several attempts, often built into expensive helmets.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Nuviz’s motorcycle solution is tied to your smartphone, it uses an externally mounted display, and it ties in both sound and speech.
At US$699, it isn’t cheap — but it is less expensive than some other technologies I’ve found. While it isn’t perfect (the unit is large, and not all features are yet available), it is impressively good for a first-generation product. Setup is about as easy as it is with any Bluetooth accessory, which means going through that wonderful pairing experience.
To operate the device, you get a secondary controller you mount on your handlebars. I’d suggest practicing with it a bit before going on the road, as learning while driving would be unsafe.
Set up and installation are quick. You might take an hour or so to practice, but in well under three hours, you can be ready to ride. That is amazing, given how painful some earlier attempts at doing this were. On top of the other core features, the device also has a cellphone-quality camera to capture your ride, and for me it is a better solution than a GoPro.
I’m one of the folks who believes that a head-mounted display is in all of our futures. Given that our noses are in our smartphones anyway, placing that display up where you can see what you are walking or driving into will be ever more critical to our survival.
So, displays like the Nuviz will find their way into a variety of industries and government organizations (military, law enforcement). BlackBerry last week pitched a global management solution for these things. They are coming — and some of us will just be using them a tad earlier than the rest.
If you ride a motorcycle and want decent GPS, music, and phone capability with the promise of more to come, the Nuviz helmet is a decent solution, a sign of our future, and my product of the week.