LOS ANGELES – Men’s goal in bringing James Dean to life for an upcoming film is not only to give his digital metaphor a role, but to give him a whole new career.
Dean’s planned appearance in the Vietnam War movie “Finding Jack” and the possibility of future parts, digital de-aging and imitation of real actors have turned from cinematic strategy to general practice. And it is giving new life to old arguments about the immortality and dignity of the dead.
“Our goal is to create a virtual entity for James Dean. It will be used not only for one movie, but also for many movies and gaming and virtual reality, “said Travis Clyde, CEO of Worldwide XR, who is leading the design of the Dean project. “Our focus is on making the ultimate James Dean so he can survive by any means.”
Legally, Dean Estate and his surviving relatives have the right to do so in full agreement.
“Our clients want to protect the rights of this valuable intellectual property and the memory of their loved ones,” said Mark Rozler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, a legal and licensing company that has long owned a title similar to Dean’s. “We have to trust them. They want to see that the image and memory of their loved one survives. ”
Dean is a staunch candidate for a revival with the epitome of Hollywood and the briefness of his life and career – he died at the age of 24 and made only three films: “East of Eden”, “Rebel for no reason” and “Giant.”
Rozler and Claude Warner Bros. did not get the right to use footage of those films, but they do have lots of photos and dozens of TV roles for Dean.
“There are thousands of pictures we have to work with,” said Clyde. “What we usually do is we take all those pictures and videos and we run through machine learning to create that resource.”
It will be added to the work of a stand-in actor using motion-capture technology, as is now commonly done with CGI characters and other actors’ overblown voices.
Last year’s announcement of the role sparked a backlash, with reactions on Twitter from “Captain America” star Chris Evans: “Maybe we can get a computer to draw a new Picasso ৷ or write some new John Lennon tunes. It’s a complete lack of understanding here.”
Terry White, editor-in-chief of the film magazine “Empire”, said: “I think there is something wrong with reviving long-dead actors in particular, and that seems a bit annoying.” “James Dean’s favorite response to the news actually showed that I think most people don’t really want it.”
For those behind the Dean project, negative feedback is inevitable because they believe it will be the ultimate acceptance. Clyde predicts a Hollywood where even the living actors have a “digital twin” that helps them in their work.
“It’s disruptive technology,” said Clyde. “Some people hear it for the first time and they shudder. But the market is going on here. ”
The resurrection of the dead, often done clumsily, is happening for most of Hollywood’s existence.
Footage of Bella Lugosi, wearing a cape over her face, used in the 1959 “Plan 9 from Outer Space” was published after the horror star’s death. Bruce Lee’s film “Game of Death,” left unfinished before his death in 1973, was completed using doubles and voice overdub, and was released five years later. “The Fast and the Furious” star Paul Walker died in 2013 before the shooting of “Furious 7” ended. Her two younger brothers and others worked as stand-in to finish her scenes.
Even Lenin and many other dead historical figures were digitally revived in 1994 in “Forest Gump”.
But the technology of entertainment and revival has taken a big leap in terms of quality and prestige, including the extensive de-aging and re-aging used in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”; Will Smith, a young man, digitally returns to play the current version of last summer’s “Gemini Man”; And Carrie Fisher, whose youngest self made a brief digital return to 2016’s “Star Wars: Rogue One” and reappeared in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” after his death.
These examples have raised scattered skepticism – both about the quality of the technology and the legitimacy of the revival – but the audience has largely accepted them.
Guy Williams, visual effects supervisor at filmmaker Peter Jackson’s Veta Digital, says the possibilities are a moral dilemma.
“The question is not so much whether you use someone’s metaphor to bring someone back or create a digital version of them, but what you do with it and the respect you show for it,” Williams said. “So, to me, the more important question.”
The visual effects supervisor behind Pablo Hellman, Robert De Niro of “The Irishman” and the de-aging of others, says he considers that moral dilemma in his work.
“The main question you have to ask yourself is why do this?” Hellman says. “You know, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, you know? This is something I always ask: is it in the service of the story?
Ethical considerations can give way to market power if viewers decide that they find the digital version of dead actors admirable and delicious.
“I think the moral question will be decided by the audience and society, whether they want to see it or not,” said Bill Westenhofer, visual effects supervisor at Gemini Man.
Dean will play a supporting role in “Finding Jack”, which is now in pre-production. Limited screen time, at the moment, as far as his retrievers want to go. But they hope that the digital avatar can eventually carry a film, perhaps even James Dean himself at different ages.
“There’s going to be a biopic of James Dean at some point,” said Clyde. “I don’t think there’s technology today to take risks.”
Kemp reports from London.
Follow AP Entertainment writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton.
Andrew Dalton and Matt Kemp, Associated Press