She can’t get sick or be late to the set, and her hair and makeup needs are minimal: Her name is Erica, and Hollywood is hoping that a sophisticated robot can be its next big star. The synthetic actor has been cast in “b,” a $70 million science-fiction movie which producer Sam Khoze describes as “a James Bond meets Mission Impossible story with heart.”
Scribe Tarek Zohdy (“1st Born”), says, the story is about scientists who create an AI robot named Erica who quickly realize the danger of this top-secret program that is trying to perfect a human through a non-human form.
Variety caught up with the filmmakers Zohdy and Khoze to discuss “b” the $70 million film that plans to finish shooting next year, after a director and human star have been brought on.
Who is Erica and how did she come to be in the film?
Tarek Zohdy: The producers, Sam Khoze and Anoush Sadegh, in association with professors Hiroshi Ishiguro and Kohei Ogawa of the University of Osaka and Telecommunication Research Institute, took on the task of training Erica to act.
We wanted to create a story, and we wanted to do it in a revolutionary way. A robot doesn’t have life experiences so they created this persona about those experiences, and we taught her how to act.
We found her to be the most capable of performing as an actor. Erica has the ability for natural interaction with people by integrating various technologies such as voice recognition, human tracking, and natural motion generation. She is almost human. Visually, her human-like appearance made her the best-known candidate to play this character in the movie.
We are artists and, we are artists of color who are able to do something with our art. We want to have a very diverse cast and as a diverse filmmaking group, I think that is essential.
How long did it take you to write the script and what can you tell us about the story?
Sam Khoze: We went through several rewrites. VFX Supervisor Eric Pham ( “Sin City”) joined us later to help develop the final version of the story . It’s a really beautiful story because, at its heart, Erica’s father who spent his life developing her wants her to serve humanity and change the way people look at AI and robots.
How long did it take to train Erica and get the performance you needed?
Khoze: It took about two years. She’s 23-years old. She has experience. She goes to the museums once a month to meet people, so she’s a fun robot.
What stage is “B” at right now and how do you see having a character like Erica being an opportunity for the film industry?
Khoze: When we started this project in 2018, we had a director who wasn’t comfortable with having VFX in the movie.
We went off and started researching and we found Erica’s creator. We started training her and she’s been performing flawlessly. She’s probably the closest AI ever made to be an artist. We wanted to experiment to see if she would learn acting. And we basically started to training her and she performs flawlessly and very well.
We don’t want to replace actors with AI, but it’s an interesting opportunity for the entertainment industry to look at AI and robots in Hollywood.
By creating her, we’ve learned she’s fully capable of communicating with people and interacting.
What does that mean? We’ve created this algorithm to digitally preserve people. So, if an actor doesn’t want to risk their life, this allows you to create a digital version of that human being, and she has her own personality without anyone needs to program her. So now we’re using this algorithm to bring actors to set using this AI technology.