"Death, once the finite end to a celebrity career, is now only a marker for the next stage, and digitally resurrected celebrities – be they Paul Walker or Audrey Hepburn – are now posthumously making their way back onto our screens....
"It was announced at the end of March that plans are in the works to digitally insert Bruce Lee, 42 years after his death, into Ip Man 3, the third film in a series about his former teacher. It’s not the first time computer graphics (CG) technology have been used to bring the martial arts star back to life on screen – his digitally reanimated figure recently starred in an advert for Johnnie Walker Blue whisky. However, the Bruce Lee estate is now seeking legal action to prevent his CG likeness appearing in the film, with their lawyer stating the family are “justifiably shocked” at the idea....
"While the practice has mainly been restricted to finishing off performances of actors who died midway through filming – such as Paul Walker in Fast and Furious 7 – it has also been utilised by advertisers, keen to attach famous faces to their brands. Most notable is the recent reanimation of Audrey Hepburn in an advert for Galaxy chocolate."
Digital necromancy? She could equally have written "digital necrophilia". Shudder! Either way, the kingdom of anecronosis extends itself....
"Mike McGee, the co-founder and creative director of Framestore... predicted the phenomenon of reviving dead celebrities was only just beginning.... 'It took Framestore four months of work to create the lifelike Audrey Hepburn, for just 60 seconds of advert, and managed it by using a combination of old photographs and a body double to build an accurate CG digital form of everything from her skin to her eyelashes – even going on location to get the lifelike light and shadow. We found that we could create a realistic still image of Hepburn quite quickly but as soon as she has to move, turn her head or open her mouth, that’s when things can start to look uncanny, when things don’t look 100% real.... The human eye can spot it because we’re so used to looking at our own reflection, so we subconsciously know all those tiny details and it’s that final 5% of realism that takes the most time to achieve. It’s all about getting the moisture in the eyes to look right, getting the eyelids to flutter correctly when someone blinks, the corner of someone’s lips to turn up a little just before they smile, because it’s those subtle signal and movements that make a great performance by any actor. And to ask an animator to copy that onto a computer model and capture a human performance is really challenging.'”
" '.... I see no reason that in the future we wouldn’t see a CG performance by a dead actor up for a Bafta or an Oscar'.”
"McGee also predicted this technology trend would have serious implications in the image and ageing obsessed world of Hollywood, with it already increasingly common for actors to have their faces and bodies scanned while they are still young to 'cryogenically preserve the digital image of their youth in case they are able to sell or lease it in the future.'”
“ 'If you are an ageing actress, and you want to take a role where you have to be 20 or 30 years younger, that can now be done digitally” he said. 'It is very possible studios like ours could even become digital make up artists, where on screen actors have their hands, or nose or anything that gives away signs of ageing, replaced with a CG version of their younger self. It’s what the technology now allows, so it’s just a case of seeing whether the film industry and actors will go down that path.'”
Of course postproduction bods digitally retouch and smooth-out the skin of performers already, don't they, in films and promo vidoes and TV....
Ellis-Petersen further reports that an academic called Denzer D’Rozario "coined the term ‘Delebs’ to describe the digitally resurrected icons". D'Rozario points out the ethical issues, e.g. Johnnie Walker Blue using a digi-sim of Bruce Lee in a commercial even though he never drank in real life.
Actually wrote about all this back in 1995 when interviewing John Oswald about Grayfolded , the Grateful Dead sampladelic project that involved the concoction of audio-ghosts of Jerry Garcia
Garcia's death does shine a peculiar light on the whole
project, in so far as it suggests that a kind of involuntary
immortality for artists may soon become widespread. Oswald
has shown that a sympathetic ear can 'play' another artist's
aesthetic like an instrument.... But what's to stop an unsympathetic,
money-motivated ear doing the same thing? In the future,
will artists copyright their 'soul-signature' and then sell
it to the highest bidder to be exploited after their demise?
Fond of visual and filmic analogies, Oswald mentions that the
movie business has been trying to devise ways of taking dead
stars and creating simulations of them to play new parts.
The mind boggles....
However as Ellis-Petersen shows, Arthur C. Clarke got there first:
"In Arthur C Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century, his 1986 novel speculating what a day in the 21st century might look like, Clarke envisions a cinema listing of the future.
“Still Gone with the Wind: The sequel picks up several years after where the 80-year-old original left off, with Rhett and Scarlett reuniting in their middle age, in 1880. Features the original cast (Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, and Vivien Leigh) and studio sets resurrected by computer graphic synthesis. Still Gone sets out to prove that they do make ‘em like they used to.”
Clarke’s book was pure science fiction, but almost 30 years later his predictions have proved prescient."