By: Nick Gambino
Making actors look younger or older with the help of CGI has been a staple of plenty of movies over the last 10-15 years, especially blockbuster flicks. These little cinematic tricks have been pulled off with varying degrees of success in movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Avengers: Endgame, and The Irishman.
The amount of time and work put in by digital artists to accomplish this feat over a great many frames is staggering. While deepfake, which is taking the internet by storm, is a faster way of aging or de-aging an actor, it’s hit or miss whether you can make it convincing.
To make the whole process more efficient Disney, the Jupiter of movie studios, has created its own AI tool to age or de-age an actor in mere seconds. The video demonstration they released is pretty astounding, at least when considering an actor standing relatively still. The AI known as “FRAN” allows for the preservation of the actor’s performance and identity when applying real-time de-aging without the need for frame-by-frame manual digital artistry.
“Although research on facial image re-aging has attempted to automate and solve this problem, current techniques are of little practical use as they typically suffer from facial identity loss, poor resolution, and unstable results across subsequent video frames,” the Disney Research Studios paper states.
The only criticism I have is the same I’ve had for most de-aging techniques. There’s a visible synthetic smoothness and shine to the subject’s face. Dead eyes have always been lobbed as the main issue with digital de-aging, but I would suggest the artificial smoothness of skin is equally egregious. It makes the person look like a digital creation, instead of what they’re going for, which is a real-life human being of a certain age.
This isn’t as much of an issue when you age an actor because you’re seeing more wrinkles and blemishes that tend to hide some of the digital creation. This is similar to the ape fur in the Planet of the Apes which helps hide certain inorganic elements.
If FRAN can make aging and de-aging in a film more realistic, I’m all for it. I don’t think we’re getting rid of the need for it, so why not come up with a better way of pulling it off?