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Posted On: 18 October 2009 11:42 am
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:10 pm

Expert sheds light on ‘virtual actor’ and special effects in movies

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Who gets the credit behind the creation of a virtual actor? This and issues behind the emergence of the virtual actor (vactor) or the synthetic thespian (synthespian), among others, were tackled during a discussion organised by the Northwestern University-Qatar.

Mary Desjardins, Dartmouth College professor of the college’s Film and Media Studies department, and author of the “Recycled Stars: Female Film Stardom in the Age of Television and Video (forthcoming), discussed issues behind the rise of the synthespian, the actor playing a role and the character who appears on screen, and whether the credit goes to the actor behind the digital FX or to the special effects department.

A synthespian is a photo-realistic, computer-generated film character and is typically created from a combination of distinct computer processes.

“This is a new form of acting and stardom in film, so I was interested in the way this formation has been talked about in the film industry,” said Desjardins, who discussed this transformation depicted in the films Final Fantasy, Simone and Lord of the Rings.

She discussed how Andy Serkis, the actor behind the Hobbit Gollum/Sméagol in Lord of the Rings, had to shoot each of Gollum’s complex scenes in the movie in three different ways. The inner conflict between the innocent Hobbit named Sméagol that he once was, and the skeletal, unscrupulous fiend he has become through possession of a mystical and evil ring, infuses the performance with dramatic tension. To create Gollum, each scene had to be shot three different ways. First Serkis played the role himself with the other live actors. Then the scene was shot again without him.

Finally, he played the role alone, wearing a bodysuit covered with sensors. Twenty-five cameras recorded his movements from various angles, including his facial expressions, and fed them into a computer.