Bringing Tarkin back in "Rogue One" (2016).

Tarkin Disney
Disney

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).

rachael blade runner 2049 warner bros
Warner Bros.

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.

captain marvel nick fury
"Captain Marvel."
Marvel Studios

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).

Gemini Man Paramount
Paramount

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."

Terminator 2  TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

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.

the irishman netflix
Netflix

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:

James Dean Bettmann Getty
James Dean.
Getty

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.