August 16, 2019
In a recent article titled “Will Smith, Robert De Niro and the Rise of the All-Digital Actor,” the Hollywood Reporter spots the latest special effects trend. Old and busted? Digital spaceships. The new hotness? Digital thespians:
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).
A believable, fully digital human is still considered among the most difficult tasks in visual effects. “Digital humans are still very hard, but it’s not unachievable. You only see that level of success at the top-level companies,” explains Chris Nichols, a director at Chaos Group Labs and key member of the Digital Human League, a research and development group. He adds that this approach can be “extraordinarily expensive. It involves teams of people and months of work, research and development and a lot of revisions. They can look excellent if you involve the right talent.”
That was certainly true in the Star Wars “prequel,” Rogue One, as I wrote in December of 2016:
While the expected interstellar battles are vividly depicted onscreen in Rogue One, at his main perch at the New York Post, [Kyle] Smith noted that the real special-effects triumph of the film is bringing Peter Cushing back to life as Grand Moff Tarkin, in one of Rogue One’s best performances. (Shades of how the computer-generated Jar Jar Binks stole Episode One for better or worse by being a far more human character than the way his flesh-and-blood counterparts were directed by Lucas.) A young Princess Leia also makes a cameo appearance, and curiously, looks far more waxworks than Tarkin. Perhaps Peter Cushing’s wrinkled and craggy visage adds a texture that, when modeled with CGI, looks more realistic than a digital recreation of Carrie Fisher’s pearlescent skin at age 19.
This article was posted: Friday, August 16, 2019 at 6:01 am