Whether it's using CGI to make an actor look decades younger, or bringing a star back from the dead, Hollywood tech is changing moviemaking.
- James Dean has been cast in an upcoming movie, though he died in 1955.
- It's the latest chapter in the evolution of visual effects in Hollywood, as one of the most iconic figures in the industry is getting a second act.
- The directors of the movie, "Finding Jack," told The Hollywood Reporter they will create a full-body CGI of Dean with the help of archival footage and photographs.
- The filmmakers have approval from Dean's family to do this, but it still has provoked backlash from some big names in Hollywood, like actor Chris Evans.
- Business Insider looked back at recent milestones in visual effects and de-aging technology to show how the industry got to this point.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
It was going to happen sooner or later.
The advancements in computer-generated imagery (CGI) in the last decade have been remarkable for Hollywood. CGI helped expand the storytelling of James Cameron's "Avatar," brought back to the screen characters like Grand Moff Tarkin ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story") and Rachael Tyrell ("Blade Runner 2049"), and most recently made aging actors look decades younger in movies like "Gemini Man," "The Irishman," and "Terminator: Dark Fate."
Now one of the screen's most iconic actors — who has been dead for over half a century — has been cast in a new movie thanks to the tech.
Last week, it was announced that an upcoming movie titled "Finding Jack" will star James Dean in the secondary lead role. Dean — who found stardom in the 1950s playing roles in movies like "Rebel Without a Cause," "East of Eden," and "Giant" — died in a car crash at the age of 24 in 1955. His death dramatically silenced a career on the rise, but instantly turned Dean into a legend.
"Finding Jack" directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh obtained the rights to use Dean's image from the late actor's family, they told The Hollywood Reporter. The movie, which is based on the novel of the same name, is set around the abandonment of over 10,000 military dogs at the end of the Vietnam War. Dean will play a character named Rogan.
The news of Dean's "casting" has led to an uproar of disapproval on social media from fans of the legend and Hollywood heavyweights like actor Chris Evans, who took to Twitter to voice his displeasure. "Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso," Evans wrote. "Or write a couple new John Lennon tunes."
Ernst told THR he and Golykh "never intended for this to be a marketing gimmick."
"We searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan, which has some extreme complex character arcs, and after months of research, we decided on James Dean," he told the trade.
Visual effects companies Imagine Engine and MOI Worldwide will team on doing a full-body CGI of Dean with the help of archival footage and photographs. An actor who sounds similar to Dean will do the voice.
The movie's eyeing a 2020 release on Veterans Day, so it's going to be some time before we see for ourselves how this plays out.
Until then, here's a look back at some of the recent advancements in CGI in just the last few years that brought the industry to this point:
Bringing Tarkin back in "Rogue One" (2016).
One of the biggest surprises in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" is the appearance of Grand Moff Tarkin, the sinister head of the Death Star in "Star Wars: A New Hope," played then by Peter Cushing (who died in 1994).
To get the character in the story, director Gareth Edwards hired English actor Guy Henry to voice the character. But he did more than that. Henry was on set dressed as Tarkin and did all the scenes as the character. He had motion capture dots all over his face and, before shooting began, put a head cam on, which captured every facial movement he made. In post production, that was all used to paste Cushing's CGI face over Henry's.
The end result is an impressive duplicate of Cushing (there's also a young CGI version of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in the movie).
The Rachael cameo in "Blade Runner 2049" (2017).
Toward the end of "Blade Runner 2049," the evil Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) tries to get information out of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) by offering something special to him. Out of the shadows appears Rachael, the Replicant Deckard fell in love with in the first "Blade Runner" movie. She looks exactly like actress Sean Young looked when she played the role in 1982.
Deckard doesn't fall for Wallace's trick, but the scene is one the audience won't soon forget.
It took a year to pull off that scene. Oscar-winning visual-effects supervisor John Nelson was determined to top everything that had been done before in the realm of de-aging. That involved creating a digital skull, using a body double, and going back to footage of the first "Blade Runner" movie to make sure to capture every unique aspect of Young's face.
The work earned Nelson and his team an Oscar win.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is no stranger to de-aging.
From "Captain America: Civil War," to the "Ant-Man" movies, to "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," the MCU is no stranger to working with de-aging tech. But the movie that really knocked it out of the park was "Captain Marvel" earlier this year.
Watching a young Samuel L. Jackson play Nick Fury (with two eyes) was a major milestone for the tech as it never feels overwhelming to watch.
Will Smith versus Will Smith in "Gemini Man" (2019).
The de-aging technology took another leap forward when "Gemini Man" came out this year.
The fight sequences of Will Smith against a younger version of himself are incredible to watch and are even more astounding as it's all shot using a high frame rate, which amplifies any flaw.
In "Terminator: Dark Fate" (2019), John and Sarah Connor show up looking like they did in "Terminator 2."
The "Terminator" franchise has always tried to push the envelope, and with "Dark Fate," the movie opens by showing just how far we've come in the de-aging space.
The movie opens with John and Sarah Connor relaxing at a beachside cantina a year after the events of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" and their de-aged versions look strikingly similar to how they looked in the 1991 movie.
Director Tim Miller used a process similar to the one used for the Rachael scene in "Blade Runner 2049," with body doubles and the digital skulls of actors Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong.
"The Irishman" (2019) de-aging tech is the best so far.
De-aging tech hit yet another milestone this year with Netflix's "The Irishman."
It is used on the movie's three lead actors — Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci — to make them look decades younger. And it's pulled off so well that there's a certain point in the movie when it no longer feels like you are looking at de-aged versions of the legendary actors.
I can't think of a better compliment than that.
And it seems there are less obstructions for the actors as well.
Ray Romano told Business Insider that while acting across from De Niro in the movie, sometimes he didn't even notice the motion capture dots on his face.
What the technology means for the future of acting:
The reality is James Dean being placed into a current movie is just the start of what could become the new normal in the industry.
With more and more actors having their faces digitally downloaded for visual effects in their current movies, behind the scenes it's likely deals are being discussed so their likenesses can lengthen their careers by decades.
When asked about going through the de-aging process while filming "The Irishman," Robert De Niro told Business Insider with a laugh, "If they can perfect it, I'll be able to work for another 30 years."
We have a feeling that wasn't a joke.