As you’re likely already aware, your best friend Will Smith’s latest film Gemini Man hit cinemas this week.
The movie follows the story of an assassin who learns that a younger clone of himself is trying to kill him. It’s all very exciting and action-packed and Hollywoodish.
Gemini Man is unlike any other film, however, because the two lead actors are Will Smith (Henry Brogan) and a digitally-created younger Will Smith (Junior). As the Hollywood Reporter shares, traditional de-ageing technology wasn’t enough in this case, because Smith and baby Smith had to be in the same shot, repeatedly.
Director Ang Lee told the outlet that for this particular project, there was no option but creating a CGI Smith:
“I believed it was time to try a digital human,” he told THR.
So, in essence, the team behind the film took images and footage of Smith in his early 20s and used the content to build the digital version of the actor. This digital face was then used to replace Smith’s current mug.
While this all sounds very cool and sci-fi, in practice it’s got a lot of issues. That’s not to say people aren’t impressed with the tech at play; they are. People generally seem sold on the *appearance* of young Junior, but the experience the film offers is being called “hollow” and “needlessly complicated”.
As Vox shared, the movie was shot in 120 frames per second as well as in 4K 3D. As a result, literally no movie theatres in the United States will be able to show the film as it was intended to be seen. Apparently, the closest we’ll get is 120 frames per second and 2K 3D, which only a few cinemas can deliver.
But then there’s the ethical dilemma. With the emergence of digital humans, a long list of potential negatives arises. Roles that may have otherwise gone to younger actors may no longer be available. The pool of jobs could very well shrink, catering (even more so) to a tiny collection of popular performers.
At the most extreme end of this line of thinking, Vox‘s Alissa Wilkinson theorises that if studios can perfectly re-create actors, they’ll have the ability to make them do almost anything. Without the inconvenience of human limits (physical, or moral) filmmakers could theoretically put ‘actors’ in positions they wouldn’t or couldn’t normally commit to.
In a time where deepfakes are both fascinating and terrifying a whole lot of people, it makes sense that we ask these kinds of questions. How far is this really going to go? Could we start seeing films starring James Dean again? Should we?
On this, VFX supervisor for Gemini Man, Bill Westenhofe, told THR:
“For us to do this, it took a team of several hundred artists two years to pull off. We are not close to someone going in their garage and completely fooling someone.”
In any case, there’s no denying it’s a little creepy to see your favourite actors walking around with faces that are no longer theirs. I, for one, prefer the old-school approach.