This weekend,“Act of Valor” opened, but this isn’t a review of this Navy Seals-based action movie. Instead, I’ll focus on the incredibly low budget of US$13 million for a film with massive amounts of live action and the feel of a war movie. Movies like this can easily cost 10x to 50x as much. An amazing combination of technology from Adobe, Canon, HP and Nvidia made this thing possible, and much of this technology is available to you. In fact, the movie was created mostly with tools you could have in your home.
Also last week, Google leaked its augmented-reality glasses. Weaving these two events together gives us a glimpse of the future of reality movies and TV.
I’ll close with my product of the week this week, the Sony Play Station Vita, what may be the best — and last — of the handheld game systems.
Building the $13M Movie
Now, “Act of Valor” may scare the hell out of you — part of the premise is terrorists exploding bombs and ball bearings in U.S. public places — but it didn’t scare the hell out of the guy who owned the budget. That’s because it didn’t require massive 3D movie cameras, CGI and render farms. It was shot with Canon 5D Mark 11 digital SLRs and edited on HP Z800 workstations running Nvidia Quadro (professional grade) graphics cards, and running Adobe CS 5.5 Premier Pro.
The filmmakers used another professional product, Dark Energy from Cinnafilm, which was optimized for Nvidia to stabilize and clean up the noise in the images. Granted, this isn’t your pocket Sony camera, Mac or Photoshop, but all of these tools, while professional grade, together cost less than $20,000. In fact, you could likely get one full workspace up with a budget under $10K. The only truly high-end product was the Nvidia Tesla C2075, which was used in conjunction with Dark Energy to speed up editing but these are a few thousand dollars and also could fall within a high end hobbyist’s budget.
Granted, you’ll have to pay the actors and support staff, and it would certainly help to have an experienced editor, but this showcases that the cost of making movies is starting to approach the budget of a high-end hobby. Right now, it’s a hobby in Larry Ellison’s or Bill Gates’ range, but it’s getting ever closer to what you and I can afford.
Over a decade ago, a couple of guys — largely with a Canon Optura, a PC, Lightwave 3D, Digital Fusion, and Adobe Premiere — created “405,” a professional grade short film. (It is still fun to watch, particularly the old lady with the one-finger salute at the end). Since then, technology has advanced so that this same kind of resource could be used to create a full-length HD film.
Google Augmented-Reality Glasses
Now here is where it kind of gets interesting. These augmented-reality glasses have built-in cameras that capture images and allow the system to translate what is real to what is imaginary. Recently I’ve been thinking through how these things could be abused to provide anything from X-ray glasses (blending pictures of naked men and women into the viewed image) to the virtual placement of negative comments from detractors over everyone’s head. It is certainly making me rethink pissing people off. For instance, I can imagine going into a bar and not only seeing a lot of suddenly naked people, but also seeing comments about social diseases, bad personality traits, and unusual quirks — doesn’t like to flush the toilet, for instance. It may make us all nicer and increase celibacy.
Now take the video that these cameras are constantly capturing and craft them into TV shows and movies. Google, which has faced 35 major privacy scandals in its recent past, likely will make this video public, and you could build entire movies or reality-TV shows from it. All your background shots and location shots would be shot not only with green screen, but also using real events.
Granted, you’d likely not get paid for your part of the video or for being an unintentional extra — though that could change — but you could find yourself watching a scene your son shot while you didn’t know he was watching you in the shower. Fun, huh?
Now also imagine going into a movie and selecting what level of violence and sex you want to see. The glasses could not only give you a 3D image, but also cover up or supply nude bodies and blood, or make any other visual customization you want to select. This could be really cool or really scary, depending on how it’s done.
In a first-person view movie, these glasses could be invaluable. They would be lighter and less conspicuous than a camera, and you could actually be more successful capturing criminals in the act or working secretly on location.
Wrapping Up: The Citizen Film Maker
We often talk about the citizen journalist, but we are getting ever closer to the citizen filmmaker. You just have to wander over to YouTube to see how much this is progressing. Granted, individuals are mostly producing very short films, but quality continues to improve, and “Act of Valor” showcases the potential high end of what an individual, with a lot of volunteers, might be able to produce.
In a few years, head-mounted cameras and displays will blur the lines between reality and the virtual world, likely to a degree we can’t now imagine and with a disruptive force we aren’t now anticipating. Perhaps changing the world will literally result in altering our reality through augmented-reality glasses.
Product of the Week: Sony PlayStation Vita
The Sony PlayStation Vita, which I’ve had for about a week now, is the state of the art in handheld gaming. Powerful, with next-generation OLED display, it showcases why so many smartphone games suck right out of the box. They suck because they lack dedicated controllers, and touchscreen control often has the nasty habit of accidentally closing and opening apps, including games, and thus destroying the game experience.
In addition, when you get done playing games on your phone — particularly one of the new performance-heavy LTE smartphones — you’ll likely find you have no battery, making a handheld gaming system like the Vita a potential lifesaver.
Without a lot of secondary apps pulling down performance in the background and with a dedicated processor, game play on the Vita is vastly better than on a smartphone, and the device can connect to WiFi or the cellular network for interactive games between players.
This is clearly the best game system on the market today, but with advances in phones and a relatively slow upgrade cycle for this segment, it is highly likely this will be one of the last — if not the last — handheld game systems brought out in this class. Because it is impressively good and because it may be the last, the PlayStation Vita is my product of the week.