How Tech Is Bringing Actors Back From The Dead

How “synthespians” are taking hold in Hollywood

Ask any filmmaker about superstar actors, and they’re likely to reply that they’re expensive, high maintenance, demanding, and annoyingly alive.

So it’s no surprise that the film industry is increasingly turning to creating synthetic replacements.

These “synthespians” are being used in Hollywood films, for instance allowing the completion of Paul Walker’s scenes after his death during the production of Furious 7.

The Star Wars universe – already replete with CGI characters – went further in Rogue One by recreating Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, and (spoiler alert) even Carrie Fisher as a young Princess Leia.

But it’s also taken hold in the world of advertising. Audrey Hepburn and Bruce Lee are two actors who are no longer with us, but have been digitally resurrected to spruik chocolate and whiskey respectively.

While Bruce was alive, he was a non-drinker. But digital Bruce can be anything the advertisers want him to be.

“When someone’s image is used,” says film critic Karl Quinn, “it does raise an ethical question, but ultimately their image is no longer theirs. Really, it comes down to whether people respond - they might find it creepy.”

And one reason why is that for so long it’s been hard to avoid landing in that place in the digital facial creation realm known as ‘the uncanny valley’, where we see something that looks almost human – but isn’t quite right.

We’re happy to go along with The Simpsons because they’re not even trying to resemble real people. Creepy robot people, not so much.

But the technology is improving at a rapid rate. Earlier this year, filmmaker Jordan Peele released a “deep fake” video in which Barack Obama’s face was manipulated to deliver a warning – featuring the F word - about the dangers of believing what you see.

So will we finally see a Marilyn Monroe romcom with Brad Pitt, without any creepy graverobbing? As I saw Abraham Lincoln say just the other day, “yass kween”.

Featured image: Believe it or not, this is not the real Marilyn Monroe. © 2018 Imaginechina via AP