November 15, 2017

Watch: Why De-Aging and Resurrecting Actors Digitally is Dumb and Makes No Sense

Please, for the love of god, somebody make it stop.

Look, digital technology in film has come a long way. Movies like Favreau's The Jungle Book and even Cameron's Avatar make wonderful use of CGI in creating beautifully realistic animals and locations. So let's just stop there, because realistically re-creating humans has proven to be a whole other ball game. 

Now, let's hone in on the issue a little bit. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button showed us how easy it is to make people look older, but making them younger is still, to this day, an entirely different case. It's hard. The results are often terrible, and at least for me, take me out of the world of the film entirely. 

As the narrator in Fandor's video essay below puts it, "the difference between flesh and blood and code and pixels is painfully evident." 

Fandor offers up the diagnosis that people like me may be suffering from a psychological phenomenon known as "The Uncanny Valley." This is the hypothesis that human replicas which appear almost—but not exactly—like real human beings elicit feelings of eeriness and revulsion among some observers. We recently wrote about the phenomenon in relation to why cinematic clowns like Pennywise are so terrifying.

Now, I can get behind making a character appear eerie or haunting if that is the director's intention. But if they're going for realism and not spookiness, then it wrecks the entire filmgoing experience, so why even bother?

Shitty Patrick Stewart in "X-Men: The Last Stand" Credit: 20th Century Fox

Another question that arises is: why did we ever move away from simply using two different actors to represent a character at two different stages of their life? X-Men: The Last Stand started off this whole trend with some really crappy CGI de-aging of Patrick Stewart back in 2006, and kept it going throughout X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But even they learned from their mistakes, realized how aesthetically awful this looked, and went on to profit from creating an entirely new franchise based off re-casting characters at a younger age.

Despite X-Men's ultimate choice reversal, maybe there's a de-aging surge because we're actually beginning to see the process pay off. Studios are apparently so satisfied with the way they are able to recreate the digital likeness of their star's youth, that now they feel comfortable raising the dead.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Gareth Edwards' Star Wars entry, Rogue One. I think most of us can agree that, though it was a bold move from one of the greatest digital effects companies that has ever existed, the results were pretty horrific.

This latest phenomenon brings ethics into the game as well. At what point can we justify using the dead in projects? You're basically taking for granted that the deceased actor would be ok with using their likeness in your film. And does the estate get that money? Where does it go?

Where do you stand on this trend? Do you want to see more de-aging and resurrection or is it just too weird that it doesn't stand a chance? Chime in below.     

Your Comment

7 Comments

Nice of Fandor to articulate your opinion for you.

While there are obvious challenges with this technology and technique, Rogue One, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Blade Runner 2049 all proved that there are some interesting things one can do. I don't think anyone wants to see two hours of a CGI young DeNiro try and relive some past cinematic glory, but your dismissiveness (or rather, Fandor's dismissiveness) seems premature.

November 15, 2017 at 6:58PM

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Agreed. I think digitally de-aging an actor is an extremely effective tool when used judiciously. Marvel has it nailed. I thought the de-aging in movies like Ant-Man, Civil War, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 were fantastic and very nearly seamless. They didn't pull me out of the film at all. I would have found a random younger actor not instantly recognizable as the character they're supposed to be to be a MUCH more distracting addition. I thought the Star Wars efforts weren't nearly as good, but Rachel looked great in Blade Runner 2049. This article is silly.

November 15, 2017 at 8:22PM

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David West
Filmmaker
957

Regarding Rachel in BR 2049 - I didn't see it myself, but a lot of people who did were amazed that she wasn't real - unfortunately they also don't recognize her as Rachel (or rather, Sean Young), but thought she was a different actress...

November 16, 2017 at 7:33AM, Edited November 16, 7:33AM

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Gerard M.
1079

That was the best example of the effect I've seen, but that's substantially to do with the fact that the slightly "off" feeling was appropriate for the scene. In a different context, I don't think it would hold up in another five years.

November 16, 2017 at 8:51AM

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Joseph Elliott
Director of Photography, , Director, Editor, Composer
309

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 used a blend. About 90% make-up, which is why it worked so well. https://screenrant.com/guardians-galaxy-2-kurt-russell-young-deaged-not-...

November 16, 2017 at 3:37PM

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The ethics of this are important to discuss. Casting dead actors with no way of obtaining consent is wrong. The rest is a little trickier. De-aging effects, or other facial manipulation effects don't seem to me be drastically different from extensive make-up. The result is a person who looks significantly different than they naturally would, which is par for the course for Hollywood. I am worried about the ability to "photoshop" actors in live-action for all the same reasons it can be troubling in the advertising world.

As for the quality of the effect, I haven't seen it done convincingly, but it's obviously improving. Seems to me that flesh and blood will always make for a better image.

November 16, 2017 at 8:49AM

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Joseph Elliott
Director of Photography, , Director, Editor, Composer
309

Jon, I'm with you. It may help save time (and maybe money?) or maintain some visual continuity and that's fine, but I find it to be a slight distraction.

November 16, 2017 at 7:29PM, Edited November 16, 7:33PM

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James Schindler
Aspiring Film maker
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