Snake Oil and CGI

If I was smart, I would take my cgi skills and design some bull-shit tech product that I have no idea how or even if it could be ever realized. Simply create a dazzling video as if it was reality and wait for the venture capital to roll in.  Never underestimate people's gullibility at the alter of technology.

I've been seeing more and more of these videos lately and I'm a born skeptic. These videos promise a dazzling future, yet rely on CGI to get there. They present an ideal "vision" of the future yet hope you -- consumer, media, investor -- sees an actual product. Just don't think too much about it before writing the check.

The Transparent Airplane of the Future! Or is it?

The Transparent Airplane of the Future! Or is it?

Imagine a future where we will travel inside apparently transparent aircraft, free to look at the world from 40,000 feet in any direction. Flying about the planet like Wonder Woman. All thanks to the magic of digital screens lining the fuselage. 

Pretty cool, huh? Except it can't work. Not in the format shown in the picture above at least.

Try pulling up a chair next to your 60" TV and watching a movie from 12" away. Because this is where this glorious digital bulkhead would fall.

And there is a perspective issue. Each passenger has their unique position and perspective throughout the airplane. Spot a cloud off the starboard side and walk up the aisle. That cloud is not going to move with you in three dimensions. No, It will be glued to the wall next to the crying baby in seat 17A. It's wallpaper not a window into the sky. Short of some autostereoscopic breakthrough that could track the head positions of every passenger and relay back to each and every eyeline a unique view that only they could see, it's going to be somewhat less awe-inspiring as in the video. 

Now I fully get this is a demo. A grand visual idea of what could be. I belive the real thing might come to be in some form some day far away. But it will be scaled down and simplified and something altogether different like a big, curved screen at each row capable of showing a selectable local view to that row. A wide shot of this interior would show a repeating sequence of the same image, not the "Transparent Airplane" as touted. 

But that is my central problem with these videos. They are intended to wow and raise money. They get attention and media because they are cool. Impossible, but cool. The truth in advertising is something different. It is CGI sleight-of-hand.

You have mail. On your wrist. In the tub. 

You have mail. On your wrist. In the tub. 

Speaking of sleight-of-hand...

A video of the Cicret projecting Bracelet landed in my inbox and Facebook feed about a thousand times. Maybe because it looks totally amazing, or maybe because it looks a lot like some things I put in my 2008 short, World Builder.

The first time I watched this I thought: clever. But there is no way anyone would think this was real, is there? Boy was I wrong. It's not a real company trying to tell us this is a real product is it? Boy was I wrong.

Turns out it was a real company who for a time might have been trying to make us think this was a real product. At the very least, they were and are trying to raise money to bring this to market as shown as a real product.

But there are some problems.
1) The low angle of projection on an uneven, often hairy surface is problematic.
2) Skin is a terrible, subsurface scattering material that is very difficult to maintain resolution onto, particularly at what looks like a 1 degree glancing angle. Try replacing your projection screen with one made out of 3" thick wax. 
3) Your finger would shadow most of the image every time you touched it. Imagine half the screen on your iPhone disappearing each time you hovered near the keyboard.
4) Light projection is an additive process you cannot project a darker black into a surface. A projector can't take away the light that is falling on a surface from other sources.

Now some of these problems could be minimized if not even overcome with some new unknown technological breakthrough. But some practical, physical limitations are going to make it so that you will never see a product as depicted.

There is a more recent video of the first real-world, non-CGI prototype. Let's just say, it lacks the CGI sizzle of their first video. The real world is apparently much can harder.  

This video shows a prototype that appears to be a pico projector (carefully framed out of the shot in most occasions) mounted on a giant wristband you could hold King Kong captive with. It does project simple words and icons onto a wrist as advertised, yet from a much higher angle given the inflated size of the wristband. The result is anything but sexy. As far as product development goes, it is not an unacceptable first leap from the initial sizzle video. But it is nowhere close to that sizzle video.

So am I being hard on these videos purporting to show a better tomorrow? For daring to project a vision into the future? I don't think so. Because initially these videos are framed as this is it! Look what we are going to do! After a period of time it becomes, no, no, no... You misunderstood. This is merely a concept of the ideas we want to explore.

I think both of these products are noble and could be able to succeed in some form. But it is a misuse of CGI to sell a product that can't ever come to be. I understand the necessity to get publicity and cast a wide net to hook initial investor capital. But it's like starting a relationship on a lie.