Music to Crossover Artists’ Ears

Music is the soundtrack of our lives. Or so it’s been said.

But there really is something to it.

Music makes us happy when we’re feeling low. Dance when we didn’t know we could. Rest when there’s no way to sleep. Try when we’ve already given up. Laugh when we feel like screaming. And cry when the tears have run dry.

For a lot of us the music soundtrack has been cradle lullabies, toddler rhymes, grade school chants, high school musicals, college choirs, graduation themes, heartache tunes, romance ballads, wedding marches…Then it starts all over again.

The soundtrack of our lives is typically personalized for each of us, i.e., it takes on different forms for individuals and societal groups. In the music business, this is what the industry calls “genres.” Grammys are handed out in the different genres, or categories, by the droves.

There is one category of music that started out rather small, and in relative terms, not that long ago. It slowly grew in popularity and at one point seemed to take off like a race car.

The official category is Christian Music. In contrast to the musical and vocal performances that were heard in the traditional hymns of the past, contemporary Christian Music has a style that, aside from the lyrics, is many times indistinguishable from Billboard’s Pop, Rock, or Country categories.

Christian Music grew from a folk rock fringe type of music in the 1960s to become a major genre, which has been embraced by a huge segment of the population that is seeking positive-oriented music as well as lyric content that sets forth faith expressions and timeless truths.

“Crossover” is a term used in the music business to describe a performer or song that appeals to two or more types of audiences that represent two or more types of musical genres.

A Christian Music performer is catapulted into the arena of crossover artist when he or she starts out being marketed to Christian-oriented outlets and venues, but additionally finds that sales of recordings are selling in other mainstream markets as well.

The reverse may sometimes also come to fruition. An artist who starts out as a mainstream pop performer, but whose music and/or lyrics contain themes that Christians can relate to, may also find a newfound audience in one or more crossover categories.

Amy Grant was one of the earlier Christian artists to make the leap into crossover. In the 1980s and 1990s, Grant segued from a sole Christian audience to an additional pop music audience as well.

In 2001 a little known Christian performer named Katy Hudson released an album to Christian outlets, but the recording didn’t quite lead to the desired success. Crossover magic happened when Katy Hudson changed her marketing strategy, and her name, to Katy Perry.

Carrie Underwood became a mainstream success after winning the 2005 fourth season of “American Idol.” She highlighted her Christian faith in many of her recordings, including “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” “Temporary Home,” and “Something in the Water.” In 2020, Underwood released a faith-filled Christmas album titled “My Gift” that added to her crossover credentials.

Other notable Christian crossover artists from country music ranks include Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Rascal Flatts, and Brooks & Dunn.

The notion of the Christian crossover artist reached unprecedented heights rather recently with the popularity and success of two super star level artists: Lauren Daigle and Kanye West.

Two-time Grammy Award winner and multi-platinum selling Christian music artist Daigle is a consummate crossover, having expanded her audience from her original Christian fans to the world of mainstream pop.

Daigle’s single “You Say” experienced record-breaking success on the Christian and Pop Billboard charts. The song held the number one position for all of 2020, its second straight year, and is the longest-running No. 1 title ever to appear on the weekly Hot Christian Songs chart.

For the last three years in a row Billboard has named Daigle the Top Christian Artist.

Then there’s Kanye. He’s not only one of the best-selling artists of all time, he’s among the most critically acclaimed artists in the whole world. Winner of twenty-one Grammy Awards, Kanye has earned praise from music critics, industry peers, cultural figures, and fans from Hip-Hop to Christian.

Kanye’s song “Follow God” placed second on the 2020 Billboard Hot Christian Songs list. His album “Jesus Is King” landed number two on the Top Christian Albums year-end chart. He was the leading Christian male artist of 2020, according to Billboard, as well as the year’s top Gospel Artist. His album simultaneously placed high on multiple charts.

Kanye is best known as a super star rapper, but over the course of his career he didn’t shy away from featuring his Christian beliefs. After his song “Jesus Walks” became a hit, he was quoted in the New York Times on the nature of his faith.

“I will say that I’m spiritual. I have accepted Jesus as my Savior. And I will say that I fall short every day,” Kanye shared.

During a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show, he was asked by Kimmel if he would consider himself to be a Christian music artist, now that he had committed himself fully to Christianity.

Kanye replied in a way that may have been thought provoking for the host and viewing audience as well.

“I’m just a Christian everything,” he said.

Disney Rules Over a Declining Box Office

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Despite some blockbuster hits, Hollywood’s box office continues on its downward trend as 2019 comes to a close.

Domestic revenues are expected to fall nearly 4 percent by year’s end; this according to The Hollywood Reporter. The box-office total of this past fall not only constitutes the sharpest decline in five years, it is also the fifth downturn this decade.

Executives in Hollywood are assuming that the decline is mostly due to new home entertainment technology and the rise of streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+. However, the content of much of the entertainment product that is being produced these days simply does not seem to be connecting with American filmgoers.

Disney is proving to be the major exception to this rule. The company’s product is not only resonating with the movie-going public, it is stamping out the competition in a big way.

The top 10 films of the year brought to the industry 38% of domestic ticket sales (up from 33% in 2018). Disney contributed an unprecedented 80 percent of the product, meaning eight out of the top 10 biggest revenue generators in the domestic box office were brought to you courtesy of the Mouse House.

The growth of the company that Walt Disney founded continues on an upward trajectory. Disney had a record-breaking year in 2016 and during that time period accounted for 6 of the top 10 highest grossing domestic films. The company made 4 out of the top 10 in 2017, 5 in 2018, and then jumped to 8 in 2019.

The Disney releases “Avengers: Endgame,” “The Lion King,” “Captain Marvel,” “Toy Story 4,” “Frozen II,” “Spider-Man: Far from Home” (shared by Disney and Sony), “Aladdin,” and “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” have propelled the company to $3.8 billion domestically and over $10 billion in global box-office revenue, a record breaking number for Disney or for any other Hollywood studio.

Although some have criticized the cost of acquiring Lucasfilm and Marvel, in hindsight the purchases were bargains. But even with Disney’s blockbuster year, including the highest grossing movie of all time “Avengers: Endgame,” Hollywood is watching the overall domestic gross for movies head south.

No doubt the introduction of elaborate home theaters equipped with big screens, high definition technology, surround sound audio, and streaming of content directly into homes has been a factor in the overall impact that is being felt in the entertainment industry and beyond.

However, the effect has not been great enough to alter content creators’ perception, or for that matter to make them even question the themes that are being shoehorned into a whole lot of the entertainment product.

Because streaming is being used more as a distribution alternative, especially for smaller budgeted studio films, the big budget blockbuster has become the stock-in-trade for movie theater owners.

Some in the entertainment world are concerned by a new approach, which is that streaming services, with the acquiescence of producers, are debuting new films online rather than in brick and mortar movie theaters. This is causing a drop in traditional movie theater ticket sales.

Ironically, Disney has embraced the direct to streaming approach with “Noelle,” a Christmas comedy starring Anna Kendrick, and the “Lady and the Tramp” remake, both of which bypassed the multiplex and went straight to Disney+, the studio’s new streaming service.

“The Irishman,” an Oscar buzz offering from Martin Scorsese, was streamed by Netflix after less than a month had passed. The streaming giant similarly started to stream “Marriage Story” after only one month. Both films are getting the awards talk that Netflix undoubtedly wanted. Nevertheless, the impact at the box office has been underwhelming.

Because the overall ticket revenue outside of the United States will likely be the same or greater than last year’s $41.1 billion, Hollywood will pay even more attention next year to the global consumers of entertainment, particularly the biggest overseas film market. For all those who are keeping tabs, that would be China.

New Immersive Experience for ‘Jumanji’ Sequel

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As traditional movie theaters face increasing pressure to please prospective film-goers, theater chains are busy at work trying to reinvent themselves.

For a while now the movie industry as a whole has been trying to keep up with the cinematic luxuries that folks have been indulging in at home, which include larger and larger TV display screens, vibrant high-definition visuals, professional stereo sound systems, hyper-advanced digital technology, on-demand entertainment delivery, and on and on. Now that’s some pretty stiff competition.

Some venues have opted to go restaurant-style, serving food and beverages to patrons as they relax in cushy recliner seats. Others have included virtual reality enhancements that appeal to the visual, auditory, tactile, and even olfactory senses. Mist on the skin, wind in the hair, body in motion, sensory stimulation, among other effects, have taken things to the 4D level, entertainment-wise.

Hollywood and its trendy urban surroundings are now acting as a laboratory of sorts for a new movie theater technology imported from France called the Immersive Cinema Experience (ICE).

In the upcoming week, ICE will debut in Los Angeles with the release of the fantasy-adventure film “Jumanji: The Next Level,” which stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Danny Glover, Danny DeVito, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain, and Madison Iseman.

Although it will cost movie-goers an additional $6, the ICE-equipped theater will feature luxury motor-operated leather seats, complete with built-in cell phone battery chargers.

Unlike older technologies that have been installed in many movie theaters, ICE does not attempt to surround a theater-goer’s field of vision with a given movie’s actual action but instead uses sidewall panels to peripherally augment the impact of a cinematic scene.

The new technology utilizes both laser projection and a huge series of non-reflecting, LED-lit panels that line each side of the theater room. A post-production team in France creates custom, ambient images to be projected on the panels, and syncs them to the film. The panels display similar colors as those on the main screen to project around the audience seating area. The side walls of the auditorium display abstract images in the form of color, light, and movement that are interconnected with what is appearing in the movie on the front screen. The result for the film-goer is a flood of input at the point of each individual’s peripheral vision.

As its name indicates, the idea is to have each person undergo a full immersion experience into his or her cinematic surroundings.

CGR Cinemas, the original developer of the ICE concept, is the company that runs one of the leading theater chains in France. The ICE concept headed over to the U.S. following the movie chain’s initial launch in France two years ago. Box-office revenues reportedly doubled the standard screen revenues in France, when it was utilized in 35 ICE-equipped theaters.

Hollywood is undergoing a digital revolution that has executives of the conventional movie kind experiencing some high anxiety. According to data from the Motion Picture Association of America, 1.3 billion movie tickets were purchased in the U.S. and Canada last year, which was down from a peak of 1.6 billion in 2002.

No doubt the movie industry is in flux as streaming giants such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon continue to alter the digital entertainment landscape.

No real worries, though, for tried-and-true cinema-plex fans. Entertainment entrepreneurs and inventive artists the world-over are stepping up with forward thinking ideas that hold great promise in the cinematic field of dreams.

‘Charlie’s Angels’ Takes a Box-office Tumble

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When it comes to box office, Hollywood’s latest remake of an iconic TV classic recently experienced a fall from grace.

The latest “Charlie’s Angels” reboot has studio executives scratching their heads in search of an explanation as to how a popular franchise with a name director, notable cast, and $50 million production budget could fail to attract a decent-sized audience.

“Wokeness” in today’s left-tilted culture is the overarching theme that is mandating current PC standards. The hyper-liberal ideology is so accepted by Hollywood’s mainstream community it makes even the savviest power players repeatedly muck things up, financially and otherwise.

Shoehorning far-left politics into what are supposed to be entertainment projects, Hollywood studios are continuing the pattern of releasing loser reboots, prequels, sequels, and the like, including “Ghostbusters,” “Men in Black,” “The Last Jedi,” and “Terminator: Dark Fate.”

The reason the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise was viewed by insiders as a viable project for a reboot in the first place was its long track record of success. It all began with a hit television series that starred Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson.

Fawcett lost her super hero battle with cancer in 2009. But at the height of her award winning career, she was a genuine cultural phenomenon, the pin-up girl of her era, setting trends for everything from a hairstyle that in modified form would live on to this day to a poster that would adorn bedroom walls and locker doors in untold numbers. The wildly popular “Charlie’s Angels” TV show dominated the airwaves from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, garnering consistently high ratings. However, there was an innocent charm to the show that would be lost in the revisions to come.

As studios are so often prone to do, the television series became repackaged, and it emerged as a “Charlie’s Angels” movie in 2000, starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu in the lead roles. The film debuted with a $40 million box office.

In 2003, Diaz, Barrymore, and Liu teamed up for a sequel, “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” which took in almost $38 million in its first weekend. Left-wing propagandists had not yet infiltrated entertainment content to the degree that would ultimately come to fruition.

So here we are sixteen years after the “Charlie’s Angels” sequel. Sony brings in Elizabeth Banks to direct, star, and write, partially due to her successful directorial debut with Universal’s “Pitch Perfect 2,” but perhaps more importantly, for her having expressed her desire to redo “Charlie’s Angels” with a feminist overlay.

Opening up with a dismal $8.6 million box-office take, the current iteration of “Charlie’s Angels” makes it clear that the filmmaker had a different goal than that of making an entertaining action movie.

A montage of images from the world-over, featuring young women of supposed power, is meant to convey to movie-goers that they are in for something other than your average everyday cinematic diversion.

An opening scene features Kristen Stewart’s character subduing a male villain after he makes dastardly sexist remarks to her.

In a recent profile in WSJ Magazine, Banks evidently felt a need to highlight the film’s feminist bona fides, saying, “You’ve had 37 Spider-Man movies and you’re not complaining! I think women are allowed to have one or two action franchises every 17 years — I feel totally fine with that.”

However, “Charlie’s Angels” features a number of anemic action scenes, which end up being a major disappointment to viewers who came to see something more than an insipid “You go girl!” after-school special.

Even the hit song from the film, titled “Don’t Call Me Angel,” which features Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Ray, couldn’t put viewers in theater seats.

The Hollywood Reporter extolled “Charlie’s Angels” for “unapologetically raising a feminist flag, championing female friendships and subtly making a point about the urgency of the ongoing climate crisis.”

That pretty much says it all, spelling it out in big bold letters why the November 2019 film turns out to be such a turkey.

Quentin Tarantino Pushes Back on China

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Someone in Hollywood is finally standing up to China.

Bucking the trend of the big studios, which have been routinely allowing Chinese censors to dictate movie content, Quentin Tarantino has made it clear that he will not alter his latest film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” as Chinese officials had demanded.

As a result, China has cancelled the release of Tarantino’s fantasy-dramedy, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. The homage to 1960s Hollywood had originally been scheduled to hit Chinese movie screens on October 25.

Chinese officials have not publicly revealed exactly what they found to be objectionable in the movie. Reportedly, the reason that the demand to modify came about was because of the filmmaker’s depiction of legendary martial arts practitioner and actor Bruce Lee.

Lee’s daughter Shannon had reportedly requested that the National Film Administration of China intervene over the portrayal of her father in the movie as a conceited braggart.

In a recent interview with The Wrap, Shannon inserted a broader controversy into her objections concerning the film.

“I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie, I understand that the two characters are antiheroes and this is sort of like a rage fantasy of what would happen… and they’re portraying a period of time that clearly had a lot of racism and exclusion. I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-a** who could beat up Bruce Lee,” Shannon stated.

“But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive,” she added.

When the subject came up at a recent press conference in Moscow, Tarantino defended the depiction of Lee in the film, telling reporters the following:

“I heard him say things like that, to that effect. If people are saying, ‘Well he never said he could beat up Muhammad Ali,’ well yeah, he did. Not only did he say that, but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read… She absolutely said it. Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy. The way he was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up.”

Media content is routinely and strictly controlled by communist bureaucrats in China as has been recently observed with the banning of Winnie the Pooh, the animated series “South Park,” and the NBA pre-season games.

It is yet to be seen whether Tarantino will hold the line and remain solid in his refusal to bend to the Chinese powers that be. In the past, the filmmaker made cuts to scenes in the movie “Django Unchained” after Chinese censors exerted pressure and the film’s release was cancelled.

After “Django Unchained” was re-edited and released in China, it ended up flopping, taking in a meager $2.7 million, despite a global box office of $425 million. However, Tarantino’s current offering, “Once Upon a Time,” features DiCaprio, an actor fave of Chinese audiences. Expectations were that the film was going to do much better than the above described re-edit debacle.

A critics’ favorite, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has increasingly become a part of the buzz surrounding next year’s Academy Awards. The movie’s performance has been a solid one at the box office, with a $367 million take. Its profit margin has been even more impressive, thanks to a budget of a mere $90 million.

If it were solely up to the studio, which is Sony Pictures, the Chinese censors might have had an easier time getting their way. However, Tarantino was able to obtain the contractual right to the final edited version of the movie, and that puts the filmmaker in the catbird seat in terms of decisions regarding any modifications to the final cut.

‘Overcomer’ Lights Up the Box Office

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Executives at Sony Pictures and its faith-based unit Affirm are no doubt elated over the box-office performance of the big-screen release “Overcomer.”

Alex and Stephen Kendrick’s most recent film opened in 1,700 theaters this past weekend and brought in a higher than expected $8.2 million, the third largest opening for a movie from the faith-based filmmaker brothers.

The film secured a third place slot in the weekend box-office line-up, just behind the major studio releases “Angel Has Fallen” and “Good Boys.”

Surprisingly, “Overcomer” took in more than $3 million on its first day, with its best box-office showings being in theaters located in the Midwest and the South.

It is the Kendrick brothers’ sixth movie outing, and all of their films have been solidly in the faith-based genre. The current film’s opening numbers are actually higher than those of “Fireproof,” the movie in which the Kendrick brothers partnered with Kirk Cameron.

“Fireproof” ultimately garnered $33 million in total box-office revenue. If “Overcomer” is able to come close to reaching this figure, the profit margin will be enormous since the production cost is reportedly a modest $5 million.

“Overcomer” brings a tear-inducing tale to the big-screen, not only because there is a poignancy that underlies a portion of the story line, but also because the Kendricks have become adept at creating through their filmmaking artistry scenes that convey the universal emotions experienced on the journey from despair to hope, waywardness to redemption, and isolation to love.

High school basketball coach John Harrison, played by Alex Kendrick, is forced to deal with the loss of his team, but Principal Olivia Brooks, played by Priscilla C. Shirer, gives him a new assignment, albeit a less desirable one, that of coach of the cross-country team.

Harrison soon discovers that the cross-country “team” consists of a mere single member, a young girl named Hannah, portrayed by Aryn Wright-Thompson, who among other challenges in her life also suffers from asthma.

In getting to know Hannah, viewers come to find out that she had been told that her father, having succumbed to drug addiction years ago, left her in the care of her grandmother. Hannah has since grown to be an introverted person, yet one who has a compulsion to steal what doesn’t belong to her.

In her mind, Hannah believes that her father is dead. In reality, however, the man she will come to know as her dad lies in a hospital bed, stricken with diabetes and complete visual impairment. Coach Harrison acts as the bridge to the healing of this relationship and so much more. In ways unexpected and uplifting, a miraculous new life is in store for Hannah.

The film critic community has unfortunately panned the movie, as is often the case with faith-based fare. The movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes shows “Overcomer” with a paltry 38% rating. Critics predictably slammed the film, calling it “religious propagandizing,” “churchy,” and an “extended sermon.”

Another movie review aggregator Metacritic gave the film a rating of 17 out of 100, which according to the site indicates “overwhelming dislike.”

Interestingly, moviegoers have a distinctly different take. Those who viewed the film gave it a rare highest rating of “A+.” On average, two films a year earn the coveted A+ CinemaScore rating. Alex Kendrick is now the second director in history to have had three different films merit the score, the other director being Rob Reiner.

One remarkable back story to this film is worth noting. Not uncommon for believers who seek careers in the entertainment business, actor Cameron Arnett, who plays Hannah’s father, had to walk away from Hollywood in order to eventually be led back to a career in faith-based films.

Arnett was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and has starred in some high-profile television series including “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Meet the Browns.”

Arnett’s plans were fundamentally altered, though, when just prior to signing a contract, he was asked if he would be willing to appear in a project while partially clothed.

“Hollywood told me that in order for you to be an actor, you have to do partial body nudity, and I had to choose career or Christ,” Arnett said in a Facebook Live interview with Miami pastor Diego Calderon. “And I chose Christ, but when I did, I lost everything.”

Arnett found himself alone, as in his words, “Agents left. Everybody left. Friends left. I was left behind by the world and by everything that I had.”

Years later he decided to try acting again, this time choosing projects that reflect his deeply held beliefs, all of which culminated in an injection of new life into his career.

Arnett’s path led him to portray an essential character in “Overcomer” and graced him with the opportunity to be a contributor to the film’s success.

Looking out on the Hollywood horizon, the hope is that more stories of miracles that embody truth and light await a thirsting audience.

Hollywood Stars of Tomorrow May Be Replaced by Actors of the Digital Kind

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The advent of robots that are able to sub-in for many of the job positions that human beings currently hold has altered an economic calculus within our society and an important stability measure as well.

Those who enjoy the status of being gainfully employed and those who dream of limitless future career possibilities are being forced to make some serious adjustments to their individual life plans.

A future in which robot employees replace the human kind has thus far been seen in the food service, manufacturing, and financial industries.

Interestingly, though, just like the rest of us Hollywood presently finds itself in a stare-down with the Brave New World of tomorrow. A similar form of technology to the one that is being applied to the overall labor market is rapidly advancing in the world of entertainment, and the same dynamics are present. Consequently, realistically threatened is one occupational position in particular, that of the Hollywood actor.

Recent advances in digital effects, combined with artificial intelligence, are bringing into reality the all digital actor, i.e., a complete and convincing digital reproduction of a real life human actor.

Similar tech-based techniques have been used to bring about a return to the small and big screen the images of actors who are no longer with us. A digital version of Peter Cushing  was used to reprise his role in the Star Wars film “Rogue One.”

It is becoming more and more routine to scan the face and body of an actor prior to starting a project, so that a digital stunt double can be used, if necessary, as a stand-in for action scenes.

This year, for the entire length of the film, the major studio movie release “Alita: Battle Angel” utilized a computer-generated actor to play the central role of a cyborg.

Two major fall releases, “Gemini Man” and “The Irishman,” will use de-aging digital effects to create younger versions of the stars of the films. The two films are examples of a new actuality in Hollywood, where actors can portray a character of any age, notwithstanding their own individual birthdays.

“Gemini Man” star Will Smith, who is now 50-years-old, recently explained his new film’s plot to the entertainment press. The actor is depicted in the movie as battling against a younger clone of himself. The technology allowed the creation of a digital double of Smith that has the ability to act in scenes simultaneously with the star.

“There’s a completely digital 20-year-old version of myself that can make movies now,” Smith shared with reporters.

Another fall movie, “The Irishman,” features 75-year-old Robert De Niro and 79-year old Al Pacino playing labor union leader Frank Sheeran and union activist Jimmy Hoffa, respectively. Both actors appear in the film at disparately different ages in their lives via the use of digital de-aging effects.

The same technology created younger versions of actors Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer in “Ant-Man” and “The Wasp,” Samuel L. Jackson in “Captain Marvel,” and Anthony Hopkins in the first season of “Westworld.”

At a time when Hollywood studios routinely focus on the franchise rather than the individual star, and when so much of production is being brought to fruition via computer graphics, it is logical that in the future many entertainment executives will use logistic and financial reasoning to pursue a fully computer generated production, including the outright replacement of live actors themselves.

Research in the methodology and artistic refinement of digitally duplicating human beings is rapidly advancing. A studio specializing in digital humans, Digital Domain, created the character Thanos for the film “Infinity War,” and has been doing extensive research and development in a division aptly called the Digital Human Group.

The idea of non-human actors presents distinct advantages for modern-day filmmakers who would love to see a set free from tiresome retakes, bloated budgets, and demanding divas.