Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 4 (April 2001)

Made for TV

By Karen Moltenbrey

On any given day, the streets of New York City and Hollywood are lined with actors and actresses looking for work. When a part becomes available, the rivalry is fierce, with thousands vying for a chance at an audition. Now these performers are facing even more competition, especially in the broadcast field, from digital actors.

Through recent advances in 3D modeling and animation tools and techniques, realistic digital characters are demonstrating a unique stage presence in a range of television series. Last year, digital anchor person An a nova, a humanlike character, proved her mettle as a Web newscaster while gaining fame as a popular cybercelebrity (see Computer Graphics World, June 2000, pg. 27). Now she may find herself competing against digital newcomers in the European job market.

  • Eve Solal, one of the most lifelike virtual characters ever created, is a rising talent who has already starred in a film clip and appeared on the cover of an actual French fashion magazine. Although the character currently has her own weekly radio show in Paris, her agent (creator Attitude Studio) is already negotiating a contract for her involving a television series, commercials, and a full-length feature film.
  • In the weekly syndicated broadcast series Sheena, a digital character has assumed the role of stunt double for the show's live-action star, Gena Lee Nolin. When the plot calls for a situation that is too dangerous or impossible to accomplish otherwise, a realistic 3D animated model of Nolin is called to action. "We are improving the model and the textures, and hope to get to a point where she is undetectable [from Nolin]," says Art David, visual effects supervisor at Victory FX. "I believe we will do that, if not in the show's first season, then in the second."
  • For Avenue Amy, a uniquely animated TV series that provides an inside look at life and dating in the Big Apple, New York columnist/writer Amy Sohn is digitally transformed into her alter ego Amy. Using various 3D and 2D cel techniques, the animators at Curious Pictures turn Sohn and other live actors into cartoon-like characters that look realistic, but with a stylistic twist.

While Eve's star is just beginning to rise, digital Sheena and Amy are already enjoying success, as both their series begin a second season. While these actresses may seem slightly out of character for typical TV roles, they are proving that digital actors are almost for real. -Karen Moltenbrey