Will Smith, Robert De Niro and the Rise of the All-Digital Actor

" New VFX techniques could be used to tell stories that studios might not have attempted just a few years ago. It’s not too difficult to imagine in the near future, say, a digital likeness of an Avengers star appearing in Marvel Studios’ ever-expanding big-screen universe in perpetuity, even if the actor has long moved on from the role. And who profits from these digital copies of actors will likely spark union debates as usage grows more common.

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.

AI and machine learning, and the related category known as generative adversarial networks (GANS), which involves neural networks, could advance this area even further. “I wouldn’t be surprised if The Irishman and Gemini Man are the last fully digital human versions that don’t use some sort of GANS as part of the process,” Hendler says, adding that de-aging techniques and digital humans could start to appear in more films, and not just those with Marvel-size budgets. “I think we’ll start to see some of this used on smaller-budget shows.”

Adds Guy Williams, Weta’s VFX supervisor on Gemini Man : “Once Gemini Man and The Irishman come out, you’ll [have several] successful films showing how it can be done. When you give that possibility to directors, they will find new ways to use it.”"

Read more at: