On the heels of their wildly popular digital resurrection last weekend of rapper Tupac Shakur, Digital Domain announced today they have successfully “resurrected” Disney’s Nine Old Men as holograms with plans to have them co-direct a new animated feature film.
The yet to be titled feature is scheduled for completion in summer 2014 with a budget of $5 million, primarily to cover the costs of post and licensing fees for the digital likenesses of the famed animators and other deceased crew needed to produce the film. Digitally projected writers and story artists have been working on the project since early March.
Using special foil to reflect images from high definition projectors, Digital Domain’s proprietary system marries past footage and images of the venerable Disney animators with algorithmically controlled performance capture data synthesized from old movies taken while they worked on classic films like Snow White, Peter Pan and 101 Dalmatians. Digital Domain claims this new proprietary technology not only makes it possible to bring back the visual likeness of someone deceased, it allows for mapping of movement and physical skills to the projected image as well.
Digital ethicists are in a bit of a quandary as this new technology goes far beyond using the nine old men’s digital likeness. In addition, questions of “ownership” of the digital likenesses remain, as technically they are not being used for endorsements or other typical opportunities for commercial gain. In this case, the studio’s commercial gain is not just the unprecedented access to arguably the greatest talents in the history of animation decades after they last worked or in some cases were still alive. They also gain access to that talent without any associated labor costs.
Hank Butters, son of the noted film editor Buck Butters, who died in 1997, remarked he had no problem signing away his father’s digital rights for the production. “My dad was a total drunken asshole,” said Butters. “50K for signing a few papers and handing over a bunch of home movies, I’m all over that like a cheap suit. He’s taking care of me better dead than he ever did alive.”
Digitally projected employees can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without rest. All they require is Digital Domain’s proprietary projection technology and the support staff needed to keep the servers and projection hardware running. While animation studio employees are often required to work as many as 20 hour a day, 7 days a week, they rarely do so without bitter complaint and the need for food, water and bathrooms.
A company spokesperson said plans are in the making to staff an entire studio with digitally projected visual effects artists. “Our dedication to producing the highest quality visual effects and animation for feature films is well known in the industry. This incredible new technology will give Digital Domain an unprecedented business advantage over every other studio, including those that operate at a fraction of our historic cost structure in places like India and China.” The spokesperson went on to say, “Imagine a workforce of the most talented artists in the world that requires no sleep, no food or water, with no spouses to call or Facebook pages to update every 3 minutes. It’s even better than having a building full of interns. It’s utterly fantastic.”