January 12th, 2021

The Coming Technical Innovations of Movies and Television

It should come as no surprise that industries are created and re-created by technological advancements. One industry that has seen some of the most vibrant innovation from technology is the film industry. With the advancements of augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and simply more accessible computing power, I’ve come up with a few predictions that I suspect we’ll see over the next decade or two.

Greenscreens 2.0: The Power of Instant Feedback

So this one is a little bit of an exception to the rest of the list, as it’s already being done in some major production, with my prediction being it will soon become much more common.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Disney’s The Mandalorian, it’s the flagship show for Disney’s streaming service based in the world of Star Wars. Watching some of the visual effects, it’s easy to forget you’re watching a TV show on a streaming service.

One of the most interesting points around the production of the Mandalorian is how they managed the sets and locations. If you’re familiar with the Star Wars world, you know the worlds and locations can vary considerably. Traditionally this is done via greenscreen, with the worlds being populated in post-production after the shoot has wrapped.

The Mandalorian did something a little different, and it’s starting to be adopted more widely by other productions. Instead of a greenscreen, they simply used a screen. A real life, giant monitor that can display exactly what the world looks like in real-time during filming. What this allows them to do is quickly make changes to the set and instantly see what it would look like. The director wants to change the time from sunset to sunrise? A few clicks. Move a rock or some trees? Just a little dragging around. And with the camera’s movement typically being pre-planned, it’s simple to have the scene move appropriately to create a sense of depth.

I suspect we’ll begin to see this more and more. With some minimal set dressings, you can quickly move from location to location with relative ease.

CGC (Computer Generated Celebrity)

To err is to human. Humans make mistakes. Now add that into the career of celebrity, who’s goals include attempting to attract as much attention as possible, and you can see where this can cause some issues. In fact, these mistakes have spawned an entire industry in and of themselves (People, TMZ, the internet). It can tank not only a career, but multi-million dollar projects.

I predict that eventually there will be celebrities that don’t exists in the real world. Born from corporate committee and focus groups, interacting solely on social media. These Computer Generated Celebrity (CGC) personalities will gain more mainstream.

I’m not referring to what we currently have with Mickey Mouse, Mario, or other fictional characters. These are less individuals and more brand representations. What I anticipate are individuals who are presented as individuals, performing is movies and TV shows, cultivating a personal brand and following, similar to how our current living and breathing stars do. I certainly don’t think these CGCs will replace real people, but I believe they will gain enough popularity that some will become household names.

If you’re familiar with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you’ll be familiar with Golllum/Smeagol, played by Andy Serkis. His performance was captured almost a decade ago via motion-tracking and CGI. Since then, the technology has only improved.

It’s conceivable that eventually we have “actors” who are stand-ins for these CGCs. Simply bodies moving and gesturing, with all identity (such as voice and face) being replaced by the computer generated performer. We see this already happening for deceased celebrities making appearances in productions to tie up loose story ends.

Which leads to another important point: these characters aren’t human. They can’t die, they can’t get sick, and they never to negotiate for higher pay or storm off set. They can work 24/7/365 in multiple locations, without ever needing a break.

Aspects of this are already being used in a few industries. One notable example is on Instagram by a user called Miquela. Miquela is an entirely artificial persona, who has amassed almost 3 million followers and growing. I suspect we’ll begin to see more and more of it as the technology makes it more accessible and practical.

AR will be the next 3D

Below is a great video essay by The Royal Ocean Film Society about the history of 3D. In it, he discusses how 3D seems to resurface in the mainstream every 30 or so years. 1920s was the invention, 1950s was the red and blue glasses, 1980s was with gimmicks, 2010s was the “modern” version, which cues us up for another big resurgence in the 2040s.

Highly recommend checking out the other videos on this channel.

I suspect we will probably see it sooner, probably in the mid-2030s, as technology seems to be moving at a slightly faster pace. I anticipate with the potential future of AR glasses (one of Apple’s long-time speculated directions, among many others), the world will begin to be augmented. Movies will be no exception.

Imagine sitting down in the theater or in your home, the lights dim, and the movie begins playing. Your AR glasses (either yours or courtesy of the theater) can identify the movie and begin to incorporate subtle augmentations in and around the movie. Perhaps a scene of the protagonist sloshing through a jungle is framed by leafy greens around the screen and walls. They rustle and shake appropriately as a family of monkeys are startled and swing off screen. Firefly lights appear dotted around the movie theater as night falls on our on-screen character. The possibilities are limitless.

Eventually, I suspect traditional screens will begin to phase out in place of AR screens. But that’s another discussion.

Some smaller ideas

Studios will open their own theaters

COVID has not been kind to the movie theater industry. In 2020, a rule was overturned stating that any studio who produces movies can’t also own movie theaters. It’s an old rule that was also repealed with one regarding the phonograph, but it’s probably the reason we don’t currently have a Disney theater chain.

I believe that in the coming years, we’ll see either the chains that have survived being bought up by the larger players (Netflix, Disney, etc) or new ones being created from scratch. These would also have a slightly different revenue model, as these physical locations would augment their existing streaming platforms, rather than compete. Meaning that we’d probably only see one or two theaters per major metropolis with specialty showings from their own catalog. Perhaps with an emphasized focus on fandoms and to foster community discussions.

A much smaller reason, but notable, is that to have your movie be eligible for certain award ceremonies, the movie must be screened at a certain number of theaters. This is why you can occasionally find movies from streaming services being shown in theaters.

Streaming will dominate, but physical media will always have a niche

Although rather obvious after a year of social distancing at home, streaming will grow to be the dominate distribution method for media. In technology (and most things), the path of least resistance inevitably wins as the costs drops and access becomes more publicly available.

However, similar with vinyl, there will always be those individuals who prefer physical media. Some industries will bloom to support this community. A good example for the film industry is the Criterion Collection.

Seriously, check out all of The Royal Ocean Film Society’s videos. They’re all very well done and worth your time.

The power of story

I think it’s important to end on the most important part of this industry. Put simply, movies tell stories. Everything else is there to support the story being told. Fancy CGI creatures, footage from drones, flashy visual effects, and more are all second to the story they’re being used to tell.

The movie Toy Story was the pinnacle example of what CGI could achieve when it was released, but appears archaic by modern standards. Such is the world of technology, where what is new will eventually become old. The reason Toy Story is still a great film is not because of the CGI, but because of the story. Perhaps it’s a story that could only be told through CGI, but it never substitutes flashy technical achievements where great story should go. Because of that, Toy Story is still being watched and beloved by audiences old and new, where other films that leaned too hard on the technical achievements are often passed over after the spectacle has faded.

Technology will always improve. Great stories are timeless.