What happened?

The digitization of movie making is taking another step with the digital resurrection of legendary actor James Dean for the upcoming action-drama Finding Jack. The film will use CGI to reconstruct James Dean from old footage whereas another actor will provide the voice. In contrast with movies like Rogue One, Fast & the Furious 7 and Blade Runner 2049 that have also cast digital clones of deceased actors, this movie will star the late actor in a leading role. The movie could potentially become a watershed moment for digital clones if it is able to deliver a compelling performance. On a similar note, several recent movies have applied de-aging techniques, such as Gemini Man, The avengers: end game and the long awaited The Irish Man which premiered last week on Netflix.

What does this mean?

These instances show that Hollywood is increasingly embracing the storytelling opportunities that digital cosmetics and cloning offers. Apart from the creative opportunities, digital clones enable content producers to use famous actors indefinitely and against lower costs and to use digital doubles for all too risky stunt work. Moreover, these endeavors show that scanning-, rendering-, motion-capture technology and AI have reached a level of sophistication in which de-aging and digitally cloning actors have somewhat bridged the so-called uncanny valley.

What’s next?

Because of this, and since actors have become brands of their own, the IP on digital clones of famous actors could become a much sought-after asset. In that vein, CMG Worldwide and Observe Media, the team that is responsible for resurrecting James Dean digitally, are merging to form Worldwide XR, with the goal to produce more digital clone content. Similarly, albeit it in a different industry, Epic Games’ acquisition of Quixel, a company with a large 3D digital asset library, shows that content producers are scrambling to acquire 3D digital assets to prepare for frictionless all-digital content creation. Whereas some believe that digital clones might replace ‘real’ acting altogether, non-digital actors could also become a category in itself, similar to theatre actors, appreciated for its unpolished, ‘in the moment’ quality. Nevertheless, we are bound to see a lot of ethical and artistic discussions surrounding the use of digital clones.