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Hollywood: coming to a business near you

The other night my husband and I saw American Made, the recent movie starring Tom Cruise as a rogue pilot who gets enmeshed with drug cartels. It was an energetic, fast-paced, entertaining movie that we both enjoyed. Funny thing, though. The first comments that both my husband and I made to each other when walking out of the show was “how the heck did they make Tom Cruise look twenty years younger???”

I confidently told my husband that Hollywood studios have all these tricks up their sleeves to make actors look great. I went on to say that Cruise had probably undergone multiple collagen injections, micro-dermabrasions, botox injections, and maybe a nip or tuck. I think I said, “you can make anyone look great with enough treatments, makeup, and money.” Spoken like a true spa groupie.

Nope, nope, and nope.

Later that day I was talking to my son, who is a sophomore majoring in film at a leading art/design/film school. This is the kind of school where actors and directors routinely stroll through the classrooms and buildings on the way to some guest lecture or meet-and-greet. My son said, quite confidently, “mom, they don’t use the actors’ real faces if they want to change the look. Directors use software to change the way the faces appear and sometimes do some special effects to make the actors look younger. It all depends on what they need.


Well heck. Maybe the spa thing is overrated after all (just like my husband thinks) and I simply need a software do-over when conference organizers project my image on a big screen when I’m speaking at a conference.

But his comments made me think about what is about to spring up everywhere inside businesses. These tools that Hollywood use are expensive and require special training–something that almost all businesses fail to provide, or at least adequately provide when they implement new technology. However, this kind of functionality is about to surface outside Hollywood and it will rock our business world.

Take faces, for example. One of the top consumer/marketing software vendors is working on software that changes the face of an image in real time. So, imagine that there’s a digital shot of a person, in neutral mode. In other words, the person isn’t smiling, frowning or showing any kind of emotion. Then imagine that a customer goes online, begins to see the image while the analytics and AI (artificial intelligence) software automatically readjusts the image to reflect the circumstances. Maybe the neutral image needs to be happy, so the software adjusts the face, making it smile or look delighted. Or, maybe the neutral image needs to show concern, so the software furrows the image’s brow and creates a look of inquisitiveness or empathy or whatever else is called for.

Don’t think for a minute that this kind of thing won’t happen.

Yes, Hollywood has multi-million dollar budgets, multiple locations around the world, and literally hundreds of special effects workers. (If you don’t believe it, look at the almost endless credits at the end of Dr. Strange for special effects animators.) Here’s another example: the most mind-blowing thing I’ve ever seen on the big screen is in Bladerunner 2049 where the droid inhabits a human. These software tools already exist, and a dumbed-down, cheaper, and easier version of these tools are going to quickly make their way into the business world. In fact, they may enter into the business world after being planted in the consumer world first. Afterall, the IT software world has drastically changed. It isn’t just the MISO vendors driving business software anymore; increasingly it’s consumer companies such as Google, Apple, Amazon, Adobe, and others. (Plus they have their voracious eyes on, and fingers in, creating content for themselves, Hollywood and TV too.) These high-end, movie-making software tools will ultimately find their way into Wall Street and Main Street and any other business venue.

Take ephemeral content for a minute.

I’ve heard the term “ephemeral content” used to describe assets that are created in a business but not retained for a long time. But I prefer using the term “ephemeral content” to describe “now you see it, now you don’t” assets. For example, a startup company, Wylei, has developed a way to create content on the fly when the customer accesses a website. Instead of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of expensive videos, photographs, and soundtracks available for the software to access, the website visuals are almost 100% composed on the fly as the customer accesses the site. Of course, the software behind the scenes provides metadata about the customer and the situation that drive the image creation, but the point is that the marketing assets are a snapshot in time, not permanent images. Can you imagine how much money and labor a company would save from not having to create vast collections of videos and photographs, then testing, and then storing/retrieving rich media assets? Instead of thousands upon thousands of assets, a company could have hundreds upon hundreds of assets that create “ephemeral content” that is purpose-driven and then discarded once the customer completes the engagement.

That’s why I say that Hollywood is coming to a business near you. 

While Hollywood’s tools will stay highly specialized and super expensive because these tools are core to the movie-making business, some of the animation concepts from movie making software that are now being merged with AI are definitely filtering into the business world.

And it is happening now.


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