Quite obviously, the conventional role of a camera is to record the real world. But sometimes an imaginary world is better. Maybe you want to shoot a film in a city but don’t have permission to close off streets and litter the neighbourhood with film-making paraphernalia. Or maybe you’d just like things to look a bit “different” from a normal city.
These days, it’s perfectly possible to have a team of 3D artists and modellers create a convincing cityscape. In fact, it’s often cheaper to do this than, for example, closing down a section of Washington DC for a car chase.
It’s also much easier to create a digital landscape for historical dramas, where contemporary buildings and street life can be replaced with scenery that’s authentic to the era. Once you have the models, it’s just a matter of shooting live action against a green screen and compositing the elements together. Boardwalk Empire, six years ago, was a triumph of this technique.
In a way, the methods used in Boardwalk Empire replace one kind of hard work (building scenery) with another (building computer-generated scenery). But with the help of CGI, the result is much better, and on a day-to-day basis achieves a level of realism and artistic flexibility that real-world techniques could never approach on a sensible budget. It’s always possible to build a “real” street scene, like the “New York” set on Paramount’s Studio Lot in Hollywood, but those are real buildings built on actual real-estate, and you know how much real buildings cost.
I’ve often thought about the idea, years in the future, where you feed a film script into a computer, press “go” and end up with a complete film — totally synthesised. I don’t think this is impossible. Whether it’s desirable or not is another matter. If it sounds far-fetched, that’s perfectly true. But it’s just a little bit less far-fetched than it was just a few days ago.
And that’s because a team of researchers has developed an Artificial Intelligence technique that uses Machine Learning to generate convincing cityscapes and street scenes that have never existed anywhere.
The system is “taught” what a real city looks like by being shown thousands of real-world examples. So it knows what a tree is, what a car is, and what street furniture looks like. To create a cityscape that’s never existed, a designer would show the system roughly where it wanted buildings, cars, telegraph poles and people to be situated, and the computer will then generate a realistic-looking scene based on those instructions.
Essentially, it bypasses the model-making stage completely.
It’s not perfect yet, but that it can even attempt such a complex task is almost a miracle from our perspective. The images are blurry and lacking in detail. But you can see the potential. Perhaps the technique has to improve a thousand-fold for it to be acceptable in a cinema. But with today’s rate of progress, that will only take a few years.
Thanks to www.engadget.com for drawing our attention to this.
Credits: Qifeng Chen and Vladlen Koltun