A CGI expert who broke ground on Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park has predicted a startling future for Hollywood when it comes to AI (artificial intelligence) and the next leap in what it can do – and it involves fooling everyone.
Steve Williams, 60, is a Canadian special effects artist and animator who worked at renowned visual effects house Industrial Light & Magic in the 1980s and ‘90s.
While there, he and his team created the Oscar-winning VFX on 1989 sci-fi film The Abyss for filmmaker James Cameron, including that striking alien tentacle creature made out of water, which replicates actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s face.
He later pushed things further by developing what we now recognise as some of the earliest, most successful (and enduring) forms of CGI with his work on Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s terrifying villain the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and the iconic T-Rex and dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.
Now, at a time when AI is especially relevant in Hollywood thanks to the Sag-Aftra strikes, he has predicted what will likely happen next, by harking back to a memorable day in American radio broadcast history.
‘The litmus test will be like a War Of the Worlds scenario. If you remember the 1938 broadcast, with Orson Welles and aliens are attacking and everyone’s freaking out – they didn’t tell you [it was fake],’ Williams shared with Metro.co.uk.
It’s been a popularly held belief that Welles and his troupe of radio actors scared the living daylights out of their listeners when their drama took the format of a typical evening’s programming to begin with, only to be interrupted by a bulletin claiming that aliens had ‘invaded’.
Some people were said to have genuinely believed there was a Martian attack before the fiction became clear when the radio play switched to a more traditional format for the second part.
Williams reckons we will experience similar – but in the world of film.
‘They’re going to release a film and it won’t be like, “Come and see the new digital film with the first digital actor!”’ he explained.
‘They’re going to release a film – and it’ll be like a rom-com with Jennifer Aniston and other players.
‘And there’ll be some actor in there, and they’re going to run it, and then a few months later [people will be asking], “Who was that actor?”
‘Well, guess what? They don’t exist.’
The CGI expert reveals that this is what he has been cautioning for over 30 years, including when it comes to the real-life uses of the technology as well, which could ‘show world leaders making decrees or a statement that they didn’t make’ as the world of Deepfakes has already started playing with.
‘That’s why I referred to it in my early interviews in the early ‘90s and said you’re dealing with a weapon,’ he added.
Williams even co-authored a paper on it for Harvard Law Journal in the 1990s, all about the resurrection of deceased actors.
‘I warned about it because you get into artists’ rights at that point.’
The trailblazer is the subject of a new documentary, Jurassic Punk, which charts the rise and fall of his career in Hollywood as he pioneered CGI but let his ego and disrespect of authority get in the way of rising through the ranks.
Ultimately fired by ILM and having made several enemies along the way – including George Lucas, who tried to get him sacked for snooping in his inner sanctum at Skywalker Ranch – Williams nonetheless has seemed eerily on the money when it comes to the issues of how his technology could be developed.
In the documentary, he is questioned as part of a panel in a press conference years ago on AI, with nervous legal representatives of dead actors’ estates giving him an earful over the ramifications.
‘I wish to God I had continued more with that interview on that panel because I warned them back then, I said, “Look, I don’t think it’s right I’m just saying it’s inevitable.” We are driven by trying to replicate ourselves synthetically,’ Williams admitted.
The AI debate is also proving particularly pertinent during the actors’ strike as, alongside better pay and proper streaming residuals being portioned out, is the growing concern surrounding the use of AI in entertainment – including the idea of scanning supporting artists in order to be able to use their likeness in other films in perpetuity.
He’s also not wild about modern movies’ obsession with relying so much on CGI, once it was proven a massive triumph by the (further) Oscar-winning success on Jurassic Park and Terminator 2.
‘Then of course, what do studios do? They said, we’ve got something, let’s do another one and find a bigger creature and, all of a sudden, the antagonist – which is the visual effects – ends up deposing the protagonist – which is the story and the character.
‘We’ve just seen that manifestation gestate over the last 30 years, and I warned about it back then and I got in a lot of trouble – I got in a lot of trouble all the time anyway.
‘I said, “[With] all we’ve done, you’re looking at the beginning of the end of filmmaking” and everyone got really mad at me.’
Jurassic Punk is available to buy or rent now on platforms including Amazon, iTunes, Sky Box Office, Virgin Media and YouTube in the UK and Ireland.
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