A robot named Erica has been chosen as the star of “b,” an upcoming science fiction film with a budget of $70 million.
Described by The Hollywood Reporter as a film starring an “artificially intelligent actor,” “b” is the story of a scientist working on human DNA projects alongside an android also named Erica. The movie will be funded by multiple groups, including Happy Moon Productions, Ten Ten Global Media and BondIt Media Capital, the financiers behind the 2017 animated film “Loving Vincent,” which was nominated for an Oscar.
The movie, which was partially filmed in Japan last year and is expected to resume filming in Europe in June 2021, has parallels with Erica’s creation and continual development by Kohei Ogawa, AI researcher and assistant professor in Osaka University’s Graduate School of Engineering Science, and Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory.
Ishiguro called Eric “most beautiful and intelligent” android in the world, according to a 2015 profile by The Guardian, where he described utilizing “images of 30 beautiful women, mix[ing] up their features and us[ing] the average” to create her unique look. Aside from resembling a human, Erica can understand questions, respond in conversations and is known in her native Japan as an announcer for local broadcaster Nippon TV, where she went by the name “AOI ERICA.”
“B” will be Erica’s debut as a film star, and according to Sam Khoze, one of the visual effects supervisors on the movie, Ishiguro and Ogawa “taught” her artificial intelligence the basics of method acting.
“We had to simulate her motions and emotions through one-on-one sessions, such as controlling the speed of her movements, talking through her feelings and coaching character development and body language,” Khoze told The Hollywood Reporter.
Erica is not the first robotic creation from Japan to hit the big screen. In 2015, Geminoid F, another robot designed by Ishiguro, starred in the post-apocalyptic Japanese film “Sayonara.”
“Sayonara,” directed by filmmaker Koji Fukada, was promoted as the first movie to star an android alongside human actors. The film received mixed reactions upon release, with Variety calling it a “dreary study of human-robot relations offer[ing] little to engage apart from its pretty scenery.”
Whether or not “b” will garner a more positive response once it resumes filming remains to be seen, but Ishiguro — who not only built Erica and Geminoid F, but also a robot of himself — believes that striving to create robots similar to those in another film, 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner,” is a worthy goal.
“As a scientist or an engineer, I hope to develop [those] kind of features,” Ishiguro told The Japan Times in a 2019 interview. “Because if I could develop the Blade Runners, that means I could deeply understand what [a] human is.”