International science magazine New Scientist has reported that scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, Germany, have developed a new software program that will obviate the need for actors to gain or lose weight quickly for roles. The new software gives filmmakers the ability to make an actor look heavier or thinner, taller or shorter, using 3-D scans and morphing technology to create an altered silhouette that can then be inserted into a scene.
The New Scientist points out that Robert De Niro's weight gain for 'Raging Bull' (about 60 pounds in two months) wouldn't have been necessary with this technology. Other actors are famous for these sorts of transformations; Christian Bale springs to mind immediately (for 'The Machinist'), of course, and more recently, Ben Stiller for 'Greenberg,' both losing weight. On the flip side of the coin, other actors have to quickly put on weight (or put weight back on, in the case of Bale) for roles, like Renée Zellweger for the 'Bridget Jones' movies, Charlize Theron for 'Monster' and George Clooney for 'Syriana' -- and then quickly peel it back off for the next role. Whether or not you're under the guidance of a doctor, a nutritionist and a personal trainer, it doesn't really matter in the long term: Drastic weight loss and gain in a short period of time is just not healthy. It also gives regular people the idea that it's so easy (read how in the latest lady mag!), and that's not true either.
Some might argue that changing one's body to fully inhabit a character lends an authenticity to a role that can't be simulated by a computer. More cynical types might point out that roles like these can be an easy path to the Oscars. If this software does what its developers say it can do, what will it mean for actors who consider these changes part of their craft? And would it really change the ridiculous standards of beauty in Hollywood?
It could mean that actors would be able to take on these sorts of parts with less concern for their health, but they'll still have to walk the red carpet looking healthy, or, in the case of someone like Zellweger, back to their "normal" (i.e. scary thin) weight. And it could also mean that audiences are further subjected to distorted views of the human body.
Additionally, The New Scientist notes, "It could also be a cost-saver for advertising companies. Because standards of beauty vary across cultures, it is the norm to shoot several adverts for a single product. With the new software, firms could make one film and tweak the model's dimensions to suit different countries."
Isn't it bad enough that practically everything we see in magazines is retouched and Photoshopped beyond reality, or that actors and actresses are pressured to look a certain way to make casting agents and directors happy? (Note: some of these body changes are not requested by agents or directors, and are taken on by the actors of their own volition, but I would hesitate to say this is the standard.)
Furthermore, while animation and CG-enhanced movies can be amazing experiences, I worry that software like this would make it easier to further misrepresent how actors and actresses look. After all, wouldn't it be tempting for someone in the edit room to sculpt those abs just a little bit extra or maybe shave a few inches off the thighs? Seeing an actress on a red carpet looking scary thin or airbrushed to "perfection" in the latest copy of Vogue is absurd enough.