Rise of the All-Digital Actor

Regardless of whether your experiences with the actors you’ve been writing for and otherwise working have been good, bad, or indifferent, the following post about a future where electronic media – which are pretty much everything we watch today except for stage plays and live concerts – is fascinating.

NOTE FROM LB: Admission – my knee jerk first reaction to an actorless future was, “Yes! No more ridiculous actor demands to deal with!” But I immediately thought of all the times great performances have resonated with me as a viewer and saved my butt as a producer and realized that no matter how great the technology may get, human performers always will be irreplaceable.

by Carolyn Giardina

On July 23, Will Smith gave reporters an early preview of his upcoming thriller Gemini Man, in which the star fights with a younger clone of himself. The 50-year-old actor noted that, with advances in visual effects, he could sit back and let a digital double do all the work. “There’s a completely digital 20-year-old version of myself that can make movies now,” he quipped. While the comment got a laugh, it wasn’t too far off from Hollywood’s new reality: Actors can now play a character at any age — regardless of their own.

New VFX techniques could be used to tell stories that studios might not have attempted just a few years ago. It’s not too difficult to imagine in the near future, say, a digital likeness of an Avengers star appearing in Marvel Studios’ ever-expanding big-screen universe in perpetuity, even if the actor has long moved on from the role. And who profits from these digital copies of actors will likely spark union debates as usage grows more common.

This fall, two prestige tentpoles will test the waters for this new paradigm. In Paramount’s Ang Lee-helmed Gemini Man (Oct. 11), “Junior” Smith involved creating a fully digital character that looks and acts like Smith did around 1996 when he starred in Independence Day. The character was created by VFX house Weta Digital to use in some of the most complex scenes where “Junior” has to act alongside Smith.

Meanwhile, Martin Scorsese’s period drama The Irishman stars Robert De Niro, 75, as Frank Sheeran, a labor union leader and alleged hit man for the Bufalino crime family, and Al Pacino, 79, as union activist Jimmy Hoffa. Both actors (and others) will appear at different ages spanning decades, which is accomplished with VFX and makeup.

But it’s the digital de-aging work, which is being handled by Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic, that has been the focus of much curiosity, though specifics of the techniques used haven’t been revealed. It’s become common for an actor to have their face and body scanned at the start of a project if VFX might be needed (for instance, in action films for a digital stunt double)….

Read it all at hollywoodreporter.com