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Entertainment technology searches for its own personality


July 25, 1997
Web posted at: 6:36 a.m. EDT (1036 GMT)

From Correspondent Dick Wilson

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Computers are changing the way we view entertainment by making the viewer a participant in the action. But are we headed for a day when technology tells the very tale it presents?

Some answers are available from the masters of illusion at Walt Disney Studios.

It all started with a mouse, and now the Disney empire not only includes movies like "Hercules" and "Aladdin," but computer games and theme-park rides based on their filmed-entertainment counterparts.

"The bridge between computer technology and the entertainment industry will happen around interactive television," says Danny Hillis, of Walt Disney Imagineering. "There is a new generation that expects things to be interactive."

That new generation is growing up with movies like Disney's "Toy Story," whose computer animation is regarded as a breakthrough.

Pixar, a leader in the digital entertainment revolution, gave "Toy Story" its legs, but the company knows that technology is no substitute for human emotion, yet.

"You have to start with a great story," Pixar's Tom Porter says. "You need characters that are appealing to the audience. That's where it all starts. There's nothing magic the computer brings to make the story or characters easier to do."

Eventually, that storyteller may be a computer designed to mimic human thinking, using artificial intelligence. But porter says scientists in artificial intelligence have a lot more research to do before silicon chips start spinning yarns the public will pay for.

"What you have to understand is (that) this community is a large way away from having a personality as sophisticated as Buzz Lightyear, never mind a personality as sophisticated as Jack Nicholson," Pixar's Porter warns.

Far into the future, Porter sees the possible development of a digital actor for the movies. It might give a different kind of performance than a real actor -- not better, not worse, just different.

For the moment, though, today's tech-savvy public will have to be happy taking charge of Aladdin as he flies across the game screen, rather than having Aladdin do the flying himself.


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