Film Studios Embrace AI to Replace Human Stunt Performers

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The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in Hollywood has raised concerns among actors about the potential threat to their jobs. However, for stunt performers, this dystopian scenario is already a reality.

Film studios have been utilizing computer-generated background figures for years to reduce the number of actors required for battle scenes in productions like “Game of Thrones” and Marvel superhero movies. Now, with the advancements in AI, cheaper and more powerful techniques are being explored to create elaborate action sequences, such as car chases and shootouts, without the need for expensive human performers.

Studios have started implementing high-tech 3D “body scans” on set, without fully explaining how or when the images will be used. AI developments could enable these scans to be transformed into eerily realistic “digital replicas” capable of performing any action or delivering any dialogue.

This raises concerns that virtual avatars could replace “nondescript” stunt performers, resulting in job losses. Director Neill Blomkamp believes that AI’s role will extend even further, with the ability to generate lifelike footage based solely on a director’s instructions within the next six to twelve months.

“Gran Turismo,” Blomkamp’s upcoming film, predominantly features actual stunt performers driving real cars on racetracks, complemented by computer-generated effects for complex and dangerous scenes. Blomkamp anticipates that as AI progresses, it will become capable of generating photo-realistic footage, rendering stunts, cameras, and physical racetracks obsolete. The ongoing strike by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) and Hollywood’s writers emphasizes the concerns around the uncertain implications of AI and its potential use in creating digital replicas of performers for an indefinite period without proper compensation.

While studios argue that they have offered rules regarding informed consent and compensation, the strike highlights the thousands of jobs potentially at stake. Stunt coordinator Paul Bouciegues points out that despite AI’s advancements, audiences can still discern the difference between computer-generated effects and real stunts.

He refers to recent movies like “Top Gun” and “Mission Impossible” sequels, where Tom Cruise insists on using real stunt performers and performing authentic stunts, arguing that the human element is crucial for the viewers’ experience.

Blomkamp agrees that current AI technology produces slightly unpredictable results, but he believes that significant changes are imminent, not only for Hollywood but for society as a whole. Bouciegues suggests that the ideal approach is to combine human performers with AI and visual effects (VFX) techniques to achieve sequences that would be too dangerous with traditional methods alone.

He acknowledges that while the stunt industry may shrink, it will not disappear entirely. However, this reality is unsettling for many stunt performers presently participating in picket lines outside Hollywood studios.

“Every stunt guy is the alpha male type, and everybody wants to say, ‘Oh, we’re good.’ But I personally have spoken to a lot of people that are freaked out and nervous,” admits Bouciegues.

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