Editorial – Wait, wut?
Ah, the indomitable Audrey Hepburn, one of cinema’s most famous actresses, humanitarian extraordinaire and most copied but never equaled fashion icon. Even today twenty years after her death people still look to her for inspiration. I remember growing up watching some of her most famous movies from her breakout role in Roman Holiday to Sabrina, My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany’s her effervescent charm and infectious smile continued to excite. In her later life she switched her attention to humanitarian concerns working with UNICEF and visiting some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world. And who can forget her dazzling role hawking chocolate while riding a bus? Wait, wut?!
As readers of this blog know I am an avid video gamer, former film student and science fiction/Star Trek fan but watching this new TV commercial featuring a seemingly-resurrected Audrey Hepburn essentially hawking chocolate was a surreal experience that unfortunately reminded me that some science fiction stories will eventually come true.
This is the commercial in question where through the magic of supreme CG and advanced techniques such as face-scanning technology which captured up to 70 muscle movements the FX company Framestore was able to bring Audrey Hepburn back to life.
Admittedly, I knew right away that she was CG but not surprisingly many people did not see it as I did and thought nothing of the fact that Audrey Hepburn was back. Many didn’t even know who Audrey Hepburn was anyways and merely saw the commercial as another one of those oddly artistic endeavours that tenuously had any relation to the product it was hawking.
Regardless, the fact that we have the technology to essentially resurrect dead people surely brings up many ethical and moral issues. In this case it seems that the people in charge of her estate gave permission to use her likeness, meaning there are no legal problems, the question still remains if this is really something we want to see as a society.
On one hand I can’t but help get giddy thinking of how technology will evolve far past the quality shown in this commercial in the coming years to the point where everyone will be “duped” into thinking they are watching the real McCoy. Even though I can tell Audrey Hepburn is CG there will come a time when the concept of the “Uncanny Valley” will be long gone.
The “Uncanny Valley” is the term bandied around that basically means that viewers become uncomfortable or even mildly agitated when watching so-called “humans” who are obviously CG creations pretending to be real. As good as CG technology has become in crafting giant robots or spaceships it really isn’t that great trying to replicate complex human movement or facial expressions yet. Just think back to movies like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within as an example where everything about the human characters seemed “off” to understand the concept.
Yet in the near future it is almost inevitable that technology will eventually recreate human movement to the point where everyone is fooled. Thinking positively as a diehard fan I would love seeing such technology utilized to make season 4 and 5 of the original Star Trek series bringing back a virtual cast of actors and actresses all in their young incarnations. Watching a brash swaggering William Shatner in is prime take command of the Enterprise in her continuing mission to “explore strange new worlds” gets me excited no matter what.
However, what of the ethical issues here? Although an actor’s estate might give the go ahead to do so is it really ethical of anyone to bring people “back from the dead” in such a fashion? How would anyone know whether or not William Shatner would agree to do more seasons of Star Trek after he had passed on? In this case, what are the chances that Audrey Hepburn would personally allow herself to be in this particular ad hawking chocolate?
To be fair the advertisement in question is actually quite nice and tastefully done. The visuals are splendid with great use of eye-popping colour and the creators have done a great job in terms of setting the proper romantic mood. Nevertheless, even if the commercial is tasteful it still doesn’t automatically mean that bringing back dead people is ethical.
If you are a fan of science fiction it makes you wonder about some far-fetched scenarios if this technology eventually reaches the point where no one can tell the difference between real and fake. It is easy to be a conspiracy theorist and ponder a situation where the President of the USA is indisposed and in the short term someone rams out a CG version to placate the public. What about a totally CG President controlled by some nefarious shadowy group working behind the scenes? Yes, it sounds implausible now but that is what is good about science fiction as it makes you wonder about all the possibilities!
Regardless, watching a CG Audrey Hepburn is only the start I presume as I suspect we’ll see more and more of these sorts of things as modern companies appropriate past icons. It is not as if this is the first case either (see Fred Astaire hawk Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner!) as this has happened before and it will happen again. Argh, blasted Battlestar Galactica reference aside, it might seem cute and inoffensive right now but who is to say where this technology will take us?
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