Facial Reconstriction

What do Avatars, Actors and Porn Stars all have in common?

All of them are looking for the perfect facial expression.

The other week when listening to Slate’s Political Gabfest I heard reference to an article in New York Magazine about how Botox is changing the film/TV industry. Looking it up, it was a fascinating read. Simply put- when you get Botox or plastic surgery to look smoother/younger, you can lose the ability to perform certain facial expressions. Botox is the main killer, of course, since it’s literally paralyzing your skin and muscles to get that smooth, younger appearance. As a result, in the age of HD TV,  actors are literally having to choose between looking good, and being able to express emotion on camera.

And being able to express emotion is important- just look at the Computer Graphics (CGI)  industry. The above New York Magazine article cites a discussion with the Casting Director from Avatar where she was talking with the CGI people about the actors they would choose for the movie, and the key thing the CGI people said was “no Botox, they can’t express emotion.” Why should that be important? Well, in the case of Avatar the CGI people needed to be able to motion capture the faces of the actors to translate that into the movements of the CGI characters, and they needed to be expressive for the system to pick up the emotions properly. But, it goes beyond Avatar, which only uses CGI for aliens and not people, because getting the right facial expressions on CGI human characters like The Incredibles or Beowulf is literally the holy grail.

In the CGI industry, they’re plagued by a problem known as the Uncanny Valley effect, wherein the closer a computer generated character gets to looking like a human without being human, the more it freaks audiences out. When you produce a human-like being that’s 98% human, but still doesn’t quite move right, or have the right subtle facial expressions it doesn’t register as human, but registers (as my one friend put it) like “an undead CGI zombie”. So to them, getting the perfect facial expressions is literally life or death, because if they can’t create a perfect simulation of a human being then they’ll never be able to replace real actors as anything but stunt doubles. (A dream of a Hollywood executives from long ago.) They’ll be stuck using cartoony versions of people like Shrek and the characters from UP!, and aliens from across the galaxy like Jar Jar Binks.

The great irony here, of course, is that the real actors are making themselves more expressionless and wooden through technology, and the technology is striving to make itself LESS expressionless and wooden in its CGI actors! One has to wonder if they’re not going to end up meeting in the middle at some point!

And what does this have to do with Porn Stars? Well, the other day I was having a conversation with one of my friends about the porn industry and its recent shifts in the type of actresses who seem to be rising to the top. When did the queens of the industry stop looking like this:

Jenna Jameson

Jenna Jameson

and start looking like this…

Sasha Grey

That’s a pretty radical change. So what gives?

Well, we both have our theories, but his is the more interesting. He said that simply put, Sasha Grey and the current crop of slender brunettes rising to the top of their industry are more expressive and better actresses than their bustier blonde counterparts. Not being a particularly avid watcher of porn (I find most of it boring, actually) I haven’t seen them in action, but I’m told they’re simply much better at expressing and conveying emotion, and that’s what makes them so attractive to their audience.

Funny that. That the porn industry is now building itself on expressiveness, while mainstream Hollywood is doing the opposite! I’d laugh, but the Botox has kicked in, and all I can do is crack a vague smile, but that’s enough, right?