Recently, as Minority Report prepares for release on Blu-ray, we talked to the man behind the movie’s impressively futuristic motion-controlled technology, John Underkoffler. His company, Oblong Industries, is currently working on technology that brings the movie’s high-concept interface to real life. Here, he discusses that, as well as the movie:
You seem to be working on some terrific innovations at Oblong Industries. When developing it, though, are you conscious of how futuristic the project seems? It must be hard not to take a step back and go “that was cool”…
Well we soak in it every day; it’s like a weak tea bag [laughs]. It’s fantastic work – we love coming in here ever day. It doesn’t seem futuristic to us, if anything we’re not moving nearly fast enough. But there is an aspect of that ‘too futuristic’ assessment which has the customers that approach us really excited about the work. There is a moment when a customer approaches us, like a dip or a valley, where they ask that exact question: “How can this be real? Surely it’s too futuristic.” But once they get their hands on the stuff, those questions go away because it works so incredibly well.
Clearly the g-speak technology demonstrated in Minority Report is now something of a reality. Pre-cogs aside, how do you view the other bits of future technology used in the film? Are they as achievable do you think?
There was a lot of discussion when we were in pre-production and even production as to whether the year was right, whether that was too far ahead or not far enough ahead, and I think no matter what we thought back then it’s all pretty much coming true much faster than we could have possible have predicted. Almost across the board the stuff that we elected to depict in the film has been emerging in the real world at a frightening speed. For instance, display technology, which was obviously a big focus of our work in the film… active paper-like displays are here. It’s fantastic. Obviously at Oblong we have chose our piece of that future to really push forward on it.
Do you think sci-fi has a role to play in the advancement of technology? Maybe not practically but as a form of inspiration perhaps…
I think it is, and maybe now more directly than it’s ever been. Historically you can talk about Arthur C Clarke inventing the terrestrial satellite years before one was ever launched but there’s a really, really tight ‘feedback’ loop these days where these ideas are explored ins speculative fiction and sci-fi films.I think there’s a curious way in which these films let us prototype ideas for technology. But they do something else as well: when a film is really good as well, like Minority Report, I think they let us ask some questions about the morality of the advancements.
Minority Report on Blu-ray is released on Monday from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.