Movie News

SIMONE' CGI Actresses' Niccol and Pacino' What's Going On Here'

Published at: Aug. 17, 2000, 10 p.m. CST by staff

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some rumblings from the Lab.

It’s strange, the way it works with news stories these days. Watching a story spread from its original source can be fascinating in the digital age. For example, you can go to The Hollywood Reporter website or follow this link to read the original story that was written by Zorianna Kit on Monday of this week, a story that got picked up here, here, here, and here, just for starters. It’s easy to see why, too. Kit built a really solid scoop out of some pretty tricky leads, and SIMONE is definitely a sexy project the way she describes it. Al Pacino starring for GATTACA’s Andrew Niccol with an all-CG actress. Very interesting, very promising...

And not true.

Don’t get me wrong. Kit did her legwork correctly. The story that is being put out now is that Andy Niccol saw rough footage from FINAL FANTASY and decided that it’s possible to use a photorealistic actress that he creates instead of casting a real actress in the lead role in his film. It’s a great story. It immediately draws people in, creates a buzz around this film.

Over the last few days, though, I’ve had some very interesting conversations with FX artists from around town, guys running major divisions at major FX houses, and we’ve discussed the idea of a photorealistic lead actor, the Niccol project in particular, FINAL FANTASY, and other topics.

The first thing that became evident is that the official story about Niccol’s decision doesn’t add up. SIMONE is a project that has always been centered around creating a CG lead actress. It’s part of the film. This isn’t a case of Niccol casting the CG character as someone real. No... this is a film about a director who literally creates the perfect woman. It’s actually one of a few competing projects centered around similar ideas. Niccol has been quietly talking to FX houses since late last year regarding the technology needed to make this film. Just why do you think he was looking at FINAL FANTASY footage in the first place?

Now, I know many of you have seen the FINAL FANTASY clips online, and there’s been much debate back and forth over the work. Personally, I think it’s lovely, but it is in no way, shape, form, or fashion anything even resembling what I would call “photoreal.” In fact, it’s so heightened, so stylized, that I can’t even begin to make the case for it as something that would fool me if set side by side with a real actor. I’ve seen FINAL FANTASY stuff projected, too, on a giant screen, looking great. It’s going to be a wild visual ride when it’s ready... but it certainly hasn’t brought us to the point of creating convincing actors.

That’s why it cracked me up when E!Online’s Josh Grossberg added a comment from Screen Actor’s Guild representative Greg Krizman to his story:

"It's not a big deal when it's an animated movie, but in the case of this thing an actor is losing his job," says SAG spokesman Greg Krizman.

Of course, Krizman has his own opinion of Simone's new costar, "I figure it's a marketing ploy basically."

I’m wondering at what point the Screen Actor’s Guild is going to stop defaming animation performers. This is hardly the first time they’ve talked about animation and suggested that there are no actors involved. Even if Niccol were using a CG character in his lead (and we’ll get to that in a moment), there would still be a vocal performer involved. And Niccol makes mention of motion capture technology in one of the stories I read, meaning there would have to be someone actually performing there, as well. So now we’ve got two actors employed for one job. Shouldn’t they be celebrating that there’s actually one extra person working? Or is all of this too complicated?

Now... here’s where we start to move into conjecture and information that comes from sources I would characterize as “nervous.” There's really sensitive issues involved here, so let's couch some of this as questions instead of answers. In talking with guys at the leading companies in the business, the guys whose job it is to take us from animation to photorealistic digital characters, one thing has become abundantly clear. It's not time. The technology is not there. Not at any shop in the business. For those of you who haven't been to Seattle's new Paul Allen Rock'n'Roll experience exhibit, there's a digital James Brown that's part of the thing that Harry and I saw a rough version of at Digital Domain. Even unfinished, James was amazing. Was he real? No. But he did a remarkable job of reproducing a younger James Brown, putting us right there for something that can't be filmed now, something that had to be reproduced. Would it have fooled me if someone had told me it was period footage? No. As nice as it was, and as cutting-edge as the work was, my eye still isn't fooled. There is no greater hurdle for FX animators to overcome. There's a reason James Cameron didn't make AVATAR when he wanted to, and it wasn't just because the treatment leaked. It was because he is still unable to make a film that would match the thing he had in his head, and James isn't willing to make the film in a form that would be out of date inside two years.

So where does that leave Niccol? Is he out of his mind? Or is there another level of shell game going on here? What if Niccol decided to cast a real actress, flesh and blood, but shelter her completely from publicity? What if he continues to tell everyone that he's "made" the perfect girl? What if the film comes out and we are introduced to this character, this Simone, and told she is the result of a startling advance in CGI? And what if they play that out for as long as they can, only admitting the truth after wringing every possible bit of publicity out of the idea? Would you feel like you'd been conned? Would you think it was all very clever and just take it in stride as part of the great Hype Machine? Say he does use a completely CG actress and she's not photoreal. Will you still buy the premise of the movie? It'll be fascinating to see what people say when the first test screening reports roll in. How much you want to bet, "She's cool, but you can tell she's fake" in every single report? Unless, that is, she's real.

Hehehe... head games a-plenty. I'll tell you this... SIMONE is one of those projects that is on our radar now here at AICN, and it's one we'll be watching very closely. Niccol has no clue yet just how much sheer spy power we can bring to bear on this picture, and he's planning to try some interesting games. We're ready, Andy... let's play!!

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback

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  • Aug. 17, 2000, 10:11 p.m. CST

    First?

    by Skywalker,Anakin

  • Aug. 17, 2000, 10:13 p.m. CST

    Yes, I was FIRST! now, perhaps I am second---

    by Skywalker,Anakin

    I apologize profusely for being first and saying it. I know it is childish and annoying, and I thought I was above this, until I did it. I can't live with myself anymore.

  • Aug. 17, 2000, 10:15 p.m. CST

    Great PUBLICITY STUNT Andrew! But you've now been foiled by the

    by Regis Travolta

  • Aug. 17, 2000, 10:16 p.m. CST

    CGI works for aliens so far, not with humans

    by Tall_Boy

    And even THAT'S a foregone conclusion. If you're looking at Jar Jar Binks, I'd say the level of realism that he was interted into TPM was about 50/50. Sometimes, he looked like he was there (check out the shot when they're standing around outside the hangar. He looks real, only cuz he's not moving at all) and other times you might as well have had flashing CGI EFFECT banner underneath him (the first time you get a close-up of him talking to Qui-Gon, Jar Jar looks exactly like what he is, an effect). But still, the whole attempt was a valiant effort anyway. (I'd say Watto blended in a little more readily, just cuz most of the time he was in shadow anyway). However, that's not to say CGI can be as impressive as shit so far. I think its great when you wanna create cityscapes/ robots/ backgrounds, etc. etc. Anything mechanical, or for digital fixes works really good for CG. As for Photo-realism, I've only seen stills of Final Fantasy, but yeah, CGI creature effects tend to be overstylized. Give it a few more years. I mean, when did The Abyss come out with the puseo-pod? '89 or so? Look how far we've come. give it about ten years, THEN we'll have something to talk about.

  • Aug. 17, 2000, 10:35 p.m. CST

    Hey Andy, could I star as Simone?

    by Junior D-Girl

    Sorry I missed your open casting call, I must have been auditioning for Coyote Ugly II that day! :-)

  • Aug. 17, 2000, 10:44 p.m. CST

    Publicity stunts like this = bad scripts

    by 6 of 24

    Because if they wanted a leading lady who was beautiful, lifeless, and didn't interact with Pacino at all they could have used any fashion model in the world. Obviously the don't think the project will find an audience on its own merits.

  • Aug. 17, 2000, 10:58 p.m. CST

    CGI or not, I hear she's got a GREAT ASS

    by The guy

    And Al's got his head all the way up it.

  • Aug. 17, 2000, 11 p.m. CST

    6 of 24, why do you have to spout bullshit?

    by Happy Dillmore

    Obviously, you don't know what you're talking about. Andrew Niccol is a good, if not great, screenwriter. Both Gattaca and The Truman Show were really cool, solid, and involving screenplays. Also, it's once in a blue moon that a bad-ass like Pacino would associate himself with a shitty flick. Just because Niccol is working with cutting-edge special effects doesn't mean that the movie is going to suck.

  • Aug. 17, 2000, 11:24 p.m. CST

    Darth Siskel

    by gryphon

    Jeez, man all Jar Jar proved was that it CAN'T be done yet. But I guess you're too much of a damn Lucas fanboy to see that. You could still tell that shit was fake. God, if only they would stop having their CGI orgasm and thought of other ways to do this stuff. Makeup and animatronics still exist, you know.

  • Aug. 17, 2000, 11:33 p.m. CST

    Moriarty

    by Prankster

    Excellent job of deduction, professor, you'll outwit that upstart Holmes yet. But I'm hoping that you aren't going to keep passing off scoops reported by you as "Rumblings" while denying us the real thing. Come on, I want some of that incisive commentary of yours. Some of those trustworthy reviews. What did you think of The Cell? What about this whole "Saruman on a spike" business? Can we expect the finale to your 90's list anytime soon? Come on man, you're the most insightful and readable internet movie columnist working today, attached to the most reviled site. You're one of many reasons people find AICN so damn fascinating. Don't sink into the background!

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 12:05 a.m. CST

    Hmmmmm.........

    by crimsonrage

    This seems like an interesting experiment like Mike Figgis' movie, what was it called? "Time Code"?, "Timeline"? What was my point again. Ah hell.

  • "You're out of order! They're out of order! The jury is out of order! This whole courtroom is out of order!!" In a related story, someone should also try and keep Al from spitting when he starts yelling.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 12:29 a.m. CST

    Gee, didn't they do this already...

    by Wungolioth

    I seem to remember a really terrible movie called "Cool World", and this will be "Cool World II", although it might be hilarious to see a dailies reel with Pacino kissing or making out with nothing, or a person in a green or black body stocking! Wungolioth the Wanderer

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 12:36 a.m. CST

    and as a practical joke...

    by Wungolioth

    They can throw Jimmy from makeup in the body stocking for that love scene!

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 12:56 a.m. CST

    "'Cause she's got a GREAT ASS!!!"

    by Brannigan!

    that's all. no comment.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 1:44 a.m. CST

    www.ANANOVA.com

    by Regis Travolta

    It's already being done at ananova.com, she's the web's first Virtually Real newscaster, go check her out, she's a knockout.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 5:57 a.m. CST

    James Brown SFX

    by Jonte

    Acually, I read in a 3D-magazine that the James Brown-movie was made by using an actors body and a CGI head. So if you thought the _body_ looked fake, look again ;) I think that one of the most underrated and overlooked effects is the car in the T-Rex-scene in the first Jurassic Park. I didn't figure that one out until I read the Behind The Scenes-book. Oh yeah, and Jar Jar sucks, and he does not look photorealistic.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 6:14 a.m. CST

    THANKS FOR RUINING IT!!

    by FreshG

    Thanks for spoiling Christmas Moriarty, I hope you are proud of yourself. Would it have killed you to hold on to this till after the movie came out? Oh no, you just had to prove how much of an insider you were by spoiling the fun for everyone. What would AICN have done with the secret of the Crying Game? The end of Psycho?

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 6:19 a.m. CST

    Actually...

    by FreshG

    I'm so bugged by this I had to post twice. How about just saying Andrew Niccol has something really big planned for this film? Why not tease it instead of spoiling the suprise? Andrew Niccol is one of our great emerging filmakers, why try and sabotage this film by giving away would could have been a wonderfully fun publicity stunt? Oh well.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 7:55 a.m. CST

    Max Headroom strikes again!

    by Zath_ras

    Moriarty's theory is not without precedent. If Zathras recalls, to create interest for Max Headroom back in the 80's, its producers at first insisted that Max was a computer-created image of Matt Frewer - quite sophisticated for its day. It was eventually revealed that they were just filming Matt in full-face prosthetics using special camera effects on a blue-screen background.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 8:10 a.m. CST

    Niccol rules

    by Kikstad

    I loved GATTACA and THE TRUMAN SHOW. (Both scripts by Andrew Niccol, and GATTACA was directed by the guy -- quite well too, I might add.) SIMONE looks very promising, especially since it stars my favorite actor Al Pacino. Let the man make his film. Quit trying to ruin the magic of surprise when we see a story unfold for the first time before our eyes on the big silver screen. Spies? We don't need no stinkin' spies! Just tell me when this movie is opening and I'll be there.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 8:38 a.m. CST

    Can't believe it

    by Alice Adams

    I just can't believe that if Niccol had it in his mind to create a CG Simone all along that he would have casting directors holding auditions all over the country to find "the right girl". Some of my friends read for the part. The breakdown I read was: 18-28 year old woman of Caucasian or mixed ethnicity. Gee, he really couldn't find someone with strong acting chops to fit that? It's an insult to actors who wasted their time in preparing for the audition - in hopes of a chance to work with one of the greatest actors around.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 9:24 a.m. CST

    Cgi humans--too many variables

    by Someguywithaname

    They cant even do a gorilla that doesnt look pasty. A cgi human looks great when placed in a cgi background-but when you mix it with real --then it sticks out like a sore thumb. Too many complicated movements and light interplay. For a few seconds maybe--but an hour of footage? Not yet bwana. Love the M cartoon btw.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 9:54 a.m. CST

    Previewreviews.com had this story days ago!

    by Dr. Radiaki

    So it wasn't news to me. Still, the link to that story is http://previewreviews.com/simone.htm. The article makes some interesting points. Basically, my feeling is, it's gonna be Roger Rabbitesque, but without the charm. In trying to get too close to reality, when they fail it'll be that much more glaringly apparent. You can even tell with Final Fantasy and THEY'RE kickass state-of-the-art! Niccol needs to pick another publicity angle, cause with the current state of technology, this project is doomed to fail (unless they build it into the script that this "perfect" CG woman is actually pretty damn "imperfect"...

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 9:58 a.m. CST

    Niccol back

    by holidill

    I like Andrew Niccol. I loved Gattaca, and the Truman Show though not originally done the way Niccol wanted it, still played really well. So I will be anticipating his next film, it'll be good to have him directing again, just keep Michael Nyman as your scorer, his Gattaca score was fabulous. As for the stuff about Simone, I can't wait to see how this all turns out...

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 10:29 a.m. CST

    Some of you people missed the point

    by CaptBlood

    I think some of you people need to stop skimming and read more carefully. The PLOT of the movie is that a director creates a perfect CG woman whom he turns into a star. The unsuspecting public, of course, thinks she is real. There WILL be a REAL (probably completely unknown)ACTRESS playing Simone, although I can imagine they're going to do some very interesting effects to make her look, at times, computer generated. Does this ruin the film? No, of course not. To be perfectly honest, the technology exists today to do this, but no one's going to try it. Why? Becuase to have a character go through an entire film this way would cost close to a Billion dollars. That's not an exageration, that's based on the fact that similar experiments at CG houses have cost many Millions for around 30 seconds of seamless footage. Those little clips also took months to produce. If they started 10 years ago, maybe they'd be done around the time Harry Potter 7 comes out. Of course the technology changes almost daily, but even taking the enormous recent advances into effect, we're still at least 5 years off from seeing anything like this in reality. The story here is actually VERY similar to Gattaca, only instead of an "inferior" emulating a perfect person, we have a computer simulation of a perfect person. Both stories (and Truman Show as well) are essentially about man playing God, although I suspect the message of Simone will be quite different than the other two, probably leaning into Bicentenial Man territory, with Pacino falling in love with his creation.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 11:20 a.m. CST

    Same reason why The Simpsons get no writing nominations either,

    by Fatal Discharge

    ...that even though the writing is miles better than any "live-human" sitcom, because it is animated then the Hollywood guilds successfully banned it from the writing Emmy categories a while back. Also, when BEAUTY AND THE BEAST got nominated for a best picture Oscar there was a hubbub made that the work of human actors was being overlooked. Gimme a break!

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 12:05 p.m. CST

    Jar Jar = shite

    by buddyackerman

    Sure, a lot of the effects in THe Phantom Menace looked amazing, but Jar Jar looked about as lifelike as that dragon in Dragonheart. Awful. Nobody "proved" anything with this, except that they are still a while away from being able to create a believable CGI human.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 4:29 p.m. CST

    my zero cents

    by geekie

    Just some thoughts, maybe connected with things previously mentioned, maybe not. Anyhow, Dragonheart had a few really good shots, though i have to agree there were also lame ones. But that's beside the point. The point was photoreal CGI. And i'd like someone qualified to answer me here if possible. I'd say the only thing that's needed for it is the appropriate software that's obviously too complex to make today. And, i guess, the shere time to animate it. Is that about it? thanks.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 7:50 p.m. CST

    Human Modelling

    by Alternex

    I've worked a bit with 3D graphics but have only recently tried my hands at photorealistic human modelling. It's incredibly hard to work on and the payoff is minimal - people will say things like "pss... that looks fake, you suck" when they see any imperfections. Working with unreal projects (ie sci-fi) impresses people the most and no one ever complains. Here's a pic of what i have so far: http://web.mit.edu/alternex/Public/firsthead/firsthead2_bw.jpg Anyways photorealistic is probably going to arrive sooner than we expect especially with projects like the Final Fantasy Movie.

  • Aug. 19, 2000, 3:48 a.m. CST

    God i hate this place......

    by han_duet

    Okay, i just thought i'd drop in on the pissy fanboy bastards over here. Somewhat photorealistic CGI humans can be created, I believe however that it would be pretty god damn dodgy creating CGI lady and inserting her into live action footage flaw free. ILM's CGI Orgasm: ILM usually only uses CGI when they have to, it would be almost impossible to do Jar Jar Binks using latex maskes and crap, i mean look at him! it would be a nightmare. Don't even get me started on Watto. In Phantom Menace CGI is really only used when needed, they still used tons of hot rubber maskes and shit, they painstakingly constructed detailed models. Getting back to the subject, i don't think they should even try to do a CGI actress for this movie, they're only doing it because they think they can.

  • Aug. 19, 2000, 12:10 p.m. CST

    Some interesting experiments in CGI people

    by Xocxoc

    While this topic of fully CGI actors is interesting (I agree we are no where close), you might want to check out what is being done in this area at the amateur level. First you have the program Poser from Curious Labs (curiouslabs.com). Then there are near realistic human models being made by Zygote (zygote.com, especially check out their Victoria model). Some amazing artwork using these packages can be found at poserforum.net. Then for something completely bizzare, check out an interesting attempt to create a completely artificial rock star at http://www.winternet.com/~rwaller/nellie/index.html

  • Aug. 19, 2000, 7:57 p.m. CST

    im sorry,

    by baff

    but CGI is far too sterile for me. i do not find taht much enjoyment watching the animation in toy story and bugs life etc. im an animation buff but it just doesnt appeal to me. far far too mechanical and sterile and ahs a long way to go before it overcomes my problems with it. give me good ole hand drawn animation. ahhhhh. ive always thought jessica rabbit was the perfect animated woman anyway. baff. btw. has anyone noticed the lack of henchmen and world domination talk from moriarty? im starting to forget he even has an evil lair!

  • Aug. 20, 2000, 12:01 a.m. CST

    Perfection in CGI Humanity has already been attained!

    by Beageal

    Any of you ever seen GameSpot TV? CGI host is breathtakingly real. And so very charismatic.

  • Aug. 20, 2000, 2:17 p.m. CST

    the next evolution of Computer Generated Information

    by Alec Cawthorne

    spoiling an hoax BEFORE IT HAS EVEN HAPPENED is not news, and it is not nice. If this is what you have done, infinite shame on you for ruining it without warning. Andrew Niccol is a man to keep an eye on, but that doesn't mean you have to pull his pants down to reveal more than you are supposed to.