(TMU) – For the very first time, a feature film will star an artificially intelligent robot. The AI actor, named Erica, was designed with the idea of applying method acting to robotics; she will play the main character in a science fiction feature film entitled ‘b’, set for release in 2021.
Financially backed by Bondit Capital Media, Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Ten Ten Global Media, the $70-million-dollar film is being brought to life by Tarek Zohdy, Sam Khoze, and visual effects supervisor Eric Pham. The story is reportedly about a scientist who creates an artificially intelligent woman (Erica) and then discovers a dangerous plot to alter human DNA.
Japanese scientists Hiroshi Ishiguro and Kohei Ogawa created the lead AI actor as a kind of proof-of-concept experiment about how to teach AI acting skills. In addition to coding Erica, the scientists had to figure out how to channel method acting to enable her to simulate human emotions.
Co-creator Khoze explains the challenges of creating an artificial ‘leading lady’:
“In other methods of acting, actors involve their own life experiences in the role. But Erica has no life experiences. She was created from scratch to play the role. We had to simulate her motions and emotions through one-on-one sessions, such as controlling the speed of her movements, talking through her feelings and coaching character development and body language.”
The announcement comes at a time when the entertainment industry is increasingly anxious about paring down productions due to COVID-19. It also comes during a time when Hollywood is increasingly using CGI advances to replace human actors with technologically simulated characters. Just this May, casting agency CAA signed a fully CGI virtual influencer/actress named Miquela.
According to ScreenRant, “Many actors and other creatives in the film industry are fearing that the efficiency of these robots whose sole purpose would be acting, who don’t need to earn a salary to provide for their families and who don’t care about union regulations will abolish the need of human actors.”
The film b does not even have a director attached yet, nor has it signed a human co-star. Nevertheless, producers began filming some of Erica’s scenes in 2019 and plan to wrap up principal photography in Europe in June of 2021.
It remains unknown what the effect of b and Erica’s debut will be on the film industry. Will it start a trend of producers looking to save money and cash in on an AI boom? Or will the ‘uncanny valley’ rear its awkward head again and render an alienating experience for viewers?
Darren Hendler, head of Digital Domain’s Digital Humans Group, says the AI revolution in filmmaking is coming, slowly but surely:
“[Machine learning] hasn’t been widely adopted yet because filmmakers don’t fully understand it,” he says. “But we’re starting to see elements of deep learning and machine learning incorporated into very specific areas. It’s something so new and so different from anything we’ve done in the past.”
Ultimately, he sees a symbiotic relationship where creative humans and creative algorithms work side by side and evolve together.