- De-aging visual effects have become increasingly prevalent in Hollywood film productions, with mixed results and audience reactions.
- Actors like Michael Douglas, Samuel L. Jackson, and Harrison Ford have been de-aged in films, raising questions about the ethics and authenticity of the technology.
- The recent SAG-AFTRA strike has placed greater attention on the potential implications of digital de-aging and AI acting for the future of the industry.
The first Ant-Man film, released in 2015, begins with a flashback scene from 1989, featuring Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym. This scene makes use of a revolutionary visual effect called “de-aging.” Dr. Pym, the original Ant-Man in the Marvel comics, discovers and harnesses the power of a subatomic particle that allows the human body to shrink or expand.
In order to achieve this younger appearance for Douglas, visual effects artists carefully examined every frame of the actor’s films from the late 1980s, enabling a computer to create a facial composite from numerous still images of his younger self. This fascinating technology has its limitations, as it can unintentionally remind audiences of the actor’s most memorable previous roles.
Marvel Studios has made extensive use of de-aging in recent years, with notable examples including Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War and Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel. The latter film received significant praise for its seamless execution of the technology, though there were still instances where Jackson’s physical movements betrayed his true age.
De-aging visual effects originated with X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006, when the faces of actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were smoothed for a flashback scene. Since then, the technology has been employed in various Disney films, including Tron: Legacy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and The Mandalorian.
Despite the impressive advancements of de-aging technology, it remains a controversial subject. Instances in which the effects are less successfully executed, such as with Robert De Niro in The Irishman, can draw attention to an actor’s true age and distract viewers from the story.
However, it is clear that the use of de-aging has become widespread in Hollywood, with 85% of productions now incorporating the technology. The recent SAG-AFTRA strike highlighted concerns over digital de-aging and AI acting, and while the future of the technology remains uncertain, it seems unlikely to disappear entirely.