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When I saw this link to Star Wars dance videos on Boing Boing I suddenly realized: this is how the computer-generated movies of the future will be made. They will not emerge from the vaults of Hollywood studios, there painstakingly built by programming in angles and dimensions and movements. No, they will arise from kids using games to make films they never could before.

These videos are made using software never intended for the purpose, and that’s why it’s so perfect. Game software is about an experience, not about the result: it is constructed to give a sense of being there, with a user interface whose role is to keep out of the way, not provide detailed control. Someday it will give both.

The object of the game is basically to kill things and take their stuff. But the designers of the game included dance moves in the characters’ repertoirs of actions. The dancers log in simultaneously and synchronize their movements by hitting the right buttons at the right time. In other words, this isn’t programming: it’s performance. Performance doesn’t need programmers, it needs performers. It makes possible happy accidents and experimentation. It is an inherently social activity.

And it’s easy. It’s easy because it doesn’t need programming. It’s easy because of the user interface. It’s easy because the software is cheap and widely available. It’s easy because costumes, characters, movements, and sets are or soon will be available for download on the net. It’s easy because the filmmakers can experiment with camera angles and directing. It’s easy because once the images are captured from the game, off-the-shelf video software can be used to edit and add music. It’s easy because anyone with talent can make a music video in less than a day.

This is just the beginning. These videos are the first photographic plates, the first rolls of celluloid. The technology will only get better. The only important piece missing is the ability of the actors to do motion capture, to create their own entirely new movements. Whether through computer analysis of video or by wearing funny virtual-reality type gear, this too will come.

When it does, film will change. This is different from home videos today, which are chiefly of interest only to grandparents and Bob Saget. Technology doesn’t create talent, but it means that those with the talent will be able to make their visions come true without the budget or clout of Hollywood.

Hollywood won’t like it: they will complain of the appropriation of their intellectual property, even while these productions enhance it. The music industry will likewise fight. Copyright will chill the form for years to come. It cannot kill it. Creativity like this will not be stopped; it will find it’s distruptive path. I look forward to many more home movies.

2004-07-24

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