Carnegie Mellon University
May 29, 2020

As COVID Slows Hollywood Pipeline, Future Tech Could Help

By Julie Mattera

Julie Mattera
  • Marketing & Communications
  • 412-268-2902
A lengthy coronavirus pandemic could limit film and television production while opening up opportunities for new forms of entertainment. But technological advancements could help reduce future disruptions by providing options for actors to collaborate remotely and create content more quickly.

Daniel Green, director of the Master of Entertainment Industry Management Program, a joint program between Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, expects that the closure of theaters and postponement of film release dates could lead to a crowded box office when theaters reopen. But for now, television has found innovative approaches to keep shows running and adhere to safety precautions.

"Unscripted television, like ‘American Idol,’ and late-night talk shows, are broadcasting from home," Green said. "Scripted shows also are finding innovative ways to work around the issue of not having actors on set, including 'The Blacklist' recently ending its season with a partially animated episode."

Green is largely optimistic about television’s future. He said some pilots made prior to the pandemic’s shutdown have been greenlit and many shows on air have been renewed for their next season.

However, if television shows can’t shoot their next season due to the virus, some TV shows will run into problems.

"Where are you going to get scripted content from if you’re not shooting in July and August?" Green said. "That will be a curveball for network executives. They may have to rely on reruns or do specials where the cast and producers host talks on Zoom about the show to keep people interested. Still, I’m hopeful that production will come back in some manner by the fall."

However, social media influencers who livestream funny or entertaining bits on YouTube or TikTok can use this time to build their brand and grow.

"The platforms are already favorites among younger age-groups who appreciate the short-form content of TikTok versus a scripted show on the Disney channel," Green said.
Animation is one piece of the entertainment industry that’s been well equipped for working remotely or from home, said Moshe Mahler, special faculty at CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center. Technology could be used to speed up the lengthy animation production process.

Mahler hopes to see animated characters with the ability of an actor in our lifetime.

"An animator would function more as a director who’s micromanaging the character’s performance so that every joint angle is exactly what they want," Mahler said. "You could imagine an animator sitting at their desk and saying, 'Ok, I need you to walk over here, jump over here. Let’s try it again, but do it more like this.'"

Having that would speed up and potentially create higher-quality production. It also could help make animation more accessible as a medium. Currently, it takes a lot of training, experience and skill to be a good animator, Mahler said, and advancements in technology could open doors to new opportunities in the field.

Technology also could eventually help films and television get around the issue of crews and actors being crowded on a set together.

Aayush Bansal, a Ph.D. candidate at CMU’s Robotics Institute, said his team's work on 4D space-time visualization could be used to film actors in different spaces and insert them into or remove them from a scene. The process would allow actors to film themselves at home using multiple handheld cameras such as their phone.

"We can insert actors, remove them or use the technology to see behind certain things in the frame," Bansal said. "It provides a natural tool for the user or the artist."

Bansal said a mixture of 4D video capture and audio-visual synthesis also could be used to place celebrities, like late night hosts, in the studio.

"If say John Oliver can’t get to the studio," Bansal said, "we can use an old show to provide the background and use audio-visual synthesis to insert new content from the host into the show."