Will Smith has been one of our greatest movie stars since the mid-1990s. His career has been a storied look at a guy who can legitimately do any genre or character. From comedy to drama, to action, to even period pieces, Will Smith can do it all.
But his greatest challenge might be playing himself, just younger.
Ang Lee's Gemini Man comes to theaters this Fall, but the film has been a long time in the making. The spec was around in the early 2000s, but technology at the time never even hinted at the idea you could create a younger version of the actor in the lead role. Now, using the technology he worked with on Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk, Ang Lee gets to have Will Smith play himself. And a computer creates the younger Smith based on the mo-cap performance of the current Will Smith.
We live in exciting times.
We live in the future
While on set, they refer to Will Smith's character as "Junior" — he was created based on Smith’s performance using motion capture at Peter Jackson’s VFX house Weta Digital.
Lee made Gemini Man in 3D and 4K at a high frame rate of 120 frames per second (fps). Check out this video where Smith takes you through a day in his life on the Gemini Man set.
This film required a ton of outside the box thinking. Gemini Man was lensed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha), who shot the movie using new models of the lightweight ARRI Alexa M camera, modified by ARRI to photograph 120fps at 3.2K resolution, on STEREOTEC 3D Rigs.
This is similar to what Lee used on Billy Lynn.
As you can imagine, a movie like this takes a ton of time and effort. WETA not only had to handle VFX but also adding Smith to every scene over himself.
Lee, in an interview with IndieWire, describes the process and how it adds to character, saying:
"“We do the whole body, not just the face,” said Lee. “We do it from scratch – that’s why I don’t like to call it de-aging. It’s not just brush up. Age does more mysteries than just wrinkles. It’s kind of sad what life does to you. Every layer of skin, bones, it’s how you age, your eyes, the enamel on your teeth. Just the subtle changes.”"
The VFX work was led by production VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer (who won Academy Awards for The Golden Compass and Lee’s Life of Pi) and Weta VFX supervisor Guy Williams, a three-time Academy Award nominee (The Avengers).
The film contains around 900 VFX shots. In signature Ang Lee fashion, many of these shots are long takes to give the eye time to explore the 3D world.
A report from Uproxx gave greater detail here:
"To de-age Smith, Lee said the visual effects team drew on photos of the actor, as well as his work in films such as Bad Boys. However, there were reasons that some of Smith’s earlier performances weren’t as instructive, particularly his turn on the early ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. “He wasn’t playing this kind of part,” notes Lee. “He played a swaggering, happy-go-lucky guy and here he’s kind of a melancholy fellow.”
With all the hard parts of this shoot, it's a wonder they are attempting 3D as well. Lee describes his choice to use 3D this way:
“If it’s a 2D movie, because it’s so strobey, the way to pump energy is horizontal speed, speed and quick cuts, people get used to that,” said Lee, adding that with 120 fps, the amount of detail in the action changes everything. “You get people excited, I think it’s the detail [you] get to see it. I think that’s new a kind of filmmaking, and I think it’s this kind of staging [frontal], in and out of the perspective, a first-person-third-person kind of exchange. It’s a different kind of language, involvement, for both the filmmaker and the viewer.”
With all this technical stuff, it's easy to think this would be a standard action movie. But there's an emotional depth here that Lee was excited to explore.
“The subject matter of nature versus nurture really got to me...I’m a cinema person [and] just in my head when I heard the idea… It really makes you wonder about your own existence and what you would tell your younger self, I’m old enough to think about that kind of thing.”
That personal and deep reflection makes us even more excited to dig into what the movie has to offer. And the technical stuff makes it a must-see in theatrical venues.
Gemini Man opens everywhere on Oct. 11.
Gemini Man Full Tech Specs
Sound Mix: Dolby Atmos
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Camera: Arri Alexa XT M, Leica Summilux-C Lenses, Phantom Flex 4K, Leica Summilux-C Lenses
Negative Format: ARRIRAW HDCAM SxS Pro
Cinematographic Process: Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), HDCAM (4K/120) (dual-strip 3-D) (source format), ProRes 4:4:4 (3.2K/120) (dual-strip 3-D) (source format), Printed Film FormatD-Cinema (Digital Cinema Package DCP) (also 3-D version), DCP (4K/120) (3-D version)