Lord of the Rings at Boston Mueseum of Science

I’m not a fan of the Hobbit books, but the movies are grand spectacles and quite fun. Far better than the Harry Potter movies, for example. So I was quite abivalent about going to see the exhibit at the Boston Mueseum of Science (flash) about the making of the movies.

It was great! There lots and lots of different ways you can enjoy this exhibit. I liked it much the way I enjoy visiting factories, or artist studios, or the way I enjoy thinking about the mechinism of a business actually works.

Modern movies are like the hybrid monsters of science fiction. A kind of bizzare amalgam of organic reality and digital machines. The assembling a movie is something right out of the lab of Dr. Frankenstein. Each pixel on the screen has a long ancestry that sooner or later returns to bit of the real world. A real object exists somewhere. I was taken aback by how many generations it maybe away from that physically real.

It’s a kind of displacement story. Here instead of a culture being displaced by some technological innovation it’s all of physical reality.

Certainly, the exhibit has lots of real artifacts. Models, costumes, props. These make better mueseum exhibits than disk drives or inanimate program listings. But, all around the edges, you can sense where the real money gets spent on a film.

In one exhibt shows how they make extremely high resolution 3D digital scans of each of the actors. For example they build extremely detailed models of just the faces. These digital actors become movie subroutines just as much as the digital monsters. In any scene were the actor’s detailed acting skills are unnecessary this digital version can then stand in. Walking into a room, moving across a plain, etc. etc. As the technology improves the range of scenes needing the real actor declines. They are displaced. They have already displaced all the extras.

Similarly the actors, when they perform, are rarelyy embedded in anything close to the real scene that the movie presents. Only the smallest fragments of any scene are actually constructed; the rest is filled in digitally. Most of the acting takes place surrounded by blue screen, one actor, alone.

One side effect of this Frankenstein laboratory is that the real objects, the physcial world inputs become rare. They are like the eye of newt, the tail of frog, in some witch’s brew. Each of them becomes more rare and at the same time more precious. If your going to create a new species of digital monster then you might as well spend a really large sum of money on the archtypical physical model that will then be digitally scanned and sent into the subroutine libraries for later animation, dupication, etc. etc. So while they don’t need to hire a few thousand extras, they do need to hire a some very highly skilled model builders.

And all these models, costumes, etc. are amazing, delightful, and really cool.

If your in Boston, I recomend a visit. I don’t think this exhibit is going anyplace else in the US.

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