Though we all sort of assume that E3 is about games (and, overwhelmingly, it is), it’s technically the Electronic Entertainment Expo, which means every once in a while we get the chance to see something that’s not exactly a game. In years past, these little discoveries would almost certainly have been relegated to the dank pit that was Kentia Hall (where games go to dieeeeee), but with E3 not quite fully returned to its former glory, Kentia Hall was turned into a parking lot and the lesser-known stuff was instead tucked away in the myriad meeting rooms surrounding the two main halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center.
In one such room were the good folks at Yoostar, who have managed to not only roll out an interesting concept — a little 2 megapixel webcam on a tripod that captures video of anyone sitting in front of it, then injects them into scenes from famous Hollywood movies — but has actually managed to garner a rather impressive amount of support from the movie studios themselves. MGM, Paramount, Universal, and Lionsgate have all signed on to contribute clips, and public domain clips like presidental addresses and even kids stuff like Sesame Street have all been licensed, making for 800 different snippets to insert oneself (or selves, as the case may be).
The $169.95 package includes the aforementioned camera (which has a built-in mic with echo cancelling to deaden any funky acoustics in bigger rooms and the ability to white balance or chroma key things to try to match the original lighting), a green screen and a remote, plus the usual PC/Mac software to get it all rolling. You simply pick a scene, set yourself up in the little bounding boxes provided, and do your damndest to match the original performance (or just spaz out like I did and completely ruin it) as the script is delivered for the typically 30 or less scene. The software then takes your performance, does a little bit of basic cleanup and then plays back the video with you now in it. Yoostar painstakingly scrubbed/cloned out the original characters and painted in a new background to then superimpose you over. In cases where foreground objects were needed, an additional layer is thrown on top of your performance to properly seat you in the right layer.
I gave it all a shot, swapping myself out for Veep Joe Biden during one of President Obama’s Congressional Addresses (the caps make it seem more official, y’see), and it worked fairly well. There was still some cleanup that needed to be done to match the lighting and green screened masking, but that’s where the rest of the Yoostar service comes in.
See, dumping yourself into scenes and hamming it up is all well and good, but if only people in your household can see it, there’s nowhere near the impact of, say, a YouTube submission. The clips can be uploaded to the Yoostar portal, where their could-based servers will do additional cleanup and then allow the community to rate and comment on the videos. You can easily blow a few hours just watching other people’s stuff for inspiration (or a little finger-pointing), and Yoostar supports uploading to other social networking sites for maximum exposure (though YouTube is out due to their rather strict copyright rules, even if the clips are studio-approved).
The idea, of course, is to allow people who shell out cash to get the whole setup then have as many tools as possible to interact with the community, and it’s all pulled off with a patented interface that feels like a suped-up version of Apple’s Cover Flow interface where thumbnails can be flipped between by scrolling across or up and down among the different layers. Hovering the mouse over a window — even ones that aren’t in the closest layer — will then play the clip so you can see that part without having to blow it up (though you certainly can). Interestingly, Yoostar is aiming at making sure it all works on laptops, which means that the typical crapfest integrated graphics chipset will indeed play things with few problems. More high-end hardware will only help smooth out and speed up the whole interface and process, but the laptop Yoostar was running wasn’t some kind of killer gaming rig.
A product like this will live or die based on two very important factors: ease of use and studio support. In all honesty, the interface seemed simple enough that even technophobes would be able to grasp it in just a few minutes (if not seconds), and it’s clear Yoostar is pushing studios hard to make more and more of their libraries available for scene insertion. The hundreds of clips that are there now will be bolstered by daily updates and packs that can be downloaded (for a nominal fee, of course). The asking price is rather steep for all the tech, but if they can get enough users to jump on board early on, the community may well make it all self-sustaining.
If the Yoostar folks are reading this, I have but one bit of advice: get the awesome Brandon Hardesty a unit and have him record a ton of stuff. You couldn’t ask for a better way to pimp your product. Seriously. Do it.