Audrey Hepburn Cruises By The Uncanny Valley
Despite incredible breakthroughs in VFX and computer animation, we still have yet to create a genuinely convincing human born purely from bytes. The thing about the uncanny valley is, the closer you are to crossing it, the further away the finish line seems. Though Spielberg’s adaptation of Tintin marked a big step forward, recreating someone well-known has proven especially difficult, if not perilous. Without artistic leeway, most experiments end up like this infamous popcorn commercial that resurrected Orville Redenbacher—more creepy than appetizing.
But unlike Redenbacher, Audrey Hepburn™ may well have breezed past the uncanny valley in a sleek, silver convertible. The spot above was made by Framestore’s London office. I’ve watched it several times and I can’t deny I’m deeply impressed. Admittedly, a few robotic glimpses peek out from behind the film grain, summery color correct, and delightfully vintage art-direction; but instinctually, the spot gives me fuzzy feelings, as opposed to goosebumps.
The longtime quest to flawlessly simulate a human has been a holy grail for engineers and artists. The implications of success have been a staple of sci-fi narratives that range from thrilling, like Prometheus, to “hilarious” like S1m0ne. Clearly, the tech behind Hepburn™ is, as VFX Supervisor William Bartlett said, “on the edge of what’s possible”. Beyond Framestore’s CGI feats, the trademark attached to Hepburn™ opens up a wider, philosophical pandora’s box, possibly telling of cinema’s future.
It’s not a huge jump to say, given a big enough budget and team, it could be possible see a new movie starring Audrey Hepburn™ in the not too distant future. Or maybe Fred Astaire™ would prove more dazzling?
Framestore mentioned that they sculpted Audrey™ from the filmed performance of a look-a-like. But to really sell the illusion, “The 3D team built the model of Hepburn™, making use of the star’s entire feature film catalogue, plus all available press and documentary photographs as reference.” The team worked tirelessly to tweak their model from every possible angle.
Given that the amount of documenting data we are creating is multiplying at an exponential rate, modeling Angelina Jolie™ should be relative cake. Let’s not even think about Bieber™.
Taken a step further, perhaps the ultimate honor 10 years down the road will be having your figure included in an expensive CGI library – where your mannerisms have been studied, mapped and rigged perfectly for easy future use. Or maybe stars’ descendants will go to court to argue the nuances of a ripped-off virtual likeness. Though really, it might be best to plan ahead and commission a model to be built before death to insure quality.
Anyone up for a visit to Madame Tussauds 2.0?