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Anaheim 99 Sunday, 24 January, 1999, 13:34 GMT
Meet moviestar Monty
AAAS
The AAAS are meeting in Anaheim, USA
AAAS Expo
Want to know what the future of the movies is? The American Association for the Advancement of Science got a sneak preview at their annual expo in Anaheim, California.

It is an innocuous-looking cyber-geek named Monty, which can move its cartoon character lips in anatomically correct synchronization as it voices sentences typed live into a laptop computer.

The demonstration came from Eric Haseltine, senior vice-president for research and development at Walt Disney Imagineering.

He said computer images like Monty promised to take the movie industry into whole new dimensions.

"Digital technology is transforming every phase of the film business from pre-production and production to post-production and distribution," he told the BBC in Anaheim.

"Some of the most exciting things I am talking about are putting things up on the screen that you think are real but were just created in the mind of an artist."

Titanic technology

Some of this is already being done. For examples, scenes in the recent movie Titanic showing the ship from afar used computer-generated characters on the decks. "Those people would normally have been extras," Haseltine told the AAAS meeting.

Computer-generated dinosaurs were used in Jurassic Park, and a computer-generated elephant starred in George of the Jungle. Computer generation is often used to create virtual sets and sound effects.

But if you love the reality of a Kate Winslet or a Leonardo DiCaprio, fear not. Haseltine told the BBC that humans would always be needed in the movies.

"Storytelling is about people and audiences want to relate to a real flesh and blood person. I think that digital technology is going to amplify and augment film but it's not ever going to replace it."

Monty, created by Oregon-based Fluent Speech Technologies, can not only speak as directed, but can emote. "Look sad," Haseltine commanded, and Monty's lips turned down in a good emulation of a human frown as it said: "I'm sad."

"TV did not replace radio. Motion pictures did not replace theatre. Maybe a new medium will be created," Haseltine said.

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Eric Haseltine: We will always need real people
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