Replacing the Irreplaceable: Actors on Film Even After Death Thanks to AI

Actor Tom Hanks, in a guest appearance on The Adam Buxton Podcast, said he was fascinated by the potential of artificial intelligence to keep actors on film even after their deaths.
He commented on the possible advantages of such a scenario, which, according to him, can happen much faster than we expect.

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Illustration: Lenka Tomašević

Even before artificial intelligence became the viral phenomenon everyone is talking about, we witnessed the possibility of actors and other celebrities posthumously being “revived” with the help of holograms. 

However, the rapid development of artificial intelligence has made it look much more convincing, more accessible to film studios, and enabled families of these artists to receive monetary compensation if the actor or actress has so determined during his lifetime. 

Find out below about all the possible pros and cons of this application of AI in the entertainment industry. 

What does Tom Hanks think about posthumously “reviving” actors with the help of AI?  

So far, we have witnessed a variety of AI applications in the film industry, ranging from special effects to deepfakes. However, the conversation on the topic of “reviving” actors on film with the help of this technology is relatively new, or at least more advanced than it has ever been. 

Does this mean that today’s audience will be able to watch, for example, Richard Burton and Zendaya act side by side? 

And what are the possible implications of this? 

Moreover, who will have the right to “revive” certain characters, who will decide how they will appear and, ultimately, who will profit from it? 

All these questions don’t have a comprehensive answer yet, since the regulation of this technology is still the subject of debate in countries around the world, but nevertheless some answers can be assumed. 

For example, judging by what Tom Hanks recently stated on the subject, actors and actresses would define in their lifetime whether they wanted to enable a posthumous “revival” on film, who would decide on future roles, and how income would be distributed. 

“I could be hit by a bus tomorrow and that’s it, but my performances can go on and on and on and on and on. We saw this coming, we saw that there was going to be this ability to take zeros and ones from inside a computer and turn it into a face and a character,” he said in the podcast, adding that actors and their agents are invested in learning  about how to protect the rights over their digital representations. 

” I can tell you that there [are] discussions going on in all of the guilds, all of the agencies, and all of the legal firms in order to come up with the legal ramifications of my face and my voice and everybody else’s being our intellectual property,” Hanks said. 

This isn’t the first time the award-winning actor has declared himself a great enthusiast for technological advances and potential that can unlock within the film industry. 

In 2004, he was part of the cast of the feature-length animated film “Polar Express”, which is known as a pioneering project in the field of motion-capture technology. 

It was later introduced in other films, such as the blockbuster “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015), which allowed scenes of actress Carrie Fisher to be posthumously completed. More precisely, her face, with the help of visual effects, is implemented on the so-called digital body. 

This process was extremely complicated, limiting and time-consuming. 

As you can assume, artificial intelligence technology will make this process faster, more efficient, more affordable and, most importantly, more convincing.

Moreover, Tom Hanks compares the importance of artificial intelligence to the discovery of the Gutenberg printing press. 

However, he also points out some of the possible shortcomings of using this technology to posthumously “revive” actresses and actors on film. 

“An AI-generated version of myself would not possess my artistic values and might appear in films I would not personally endorse. Without a doubt, people will be able to tell, but the question is will they care,” the actor pointed out. 

What’s the difference between artificial intelligence and holograms? 

So far, we have had the opportunity to witness numerous holograms in the entertainment industry, primarily at music events. In this way, musicians such as Tupac, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, and many others were temporarily “brought back to life”. 

However, such holograms are extremely limited compared to today’s technology, and the audience’s objections are most often related to feeling like they are watching a movie, and that recordings of concerts where holograms were used do not look good because of their two-dimensionality. 

So, how do holograms work? 

From a technical point of view, it is a light projection that creates the illusion of a three-dimensional projection that retains the depth of the original source it reproduces. Such holograms are intended to be observed from a distance, as striplight sources are increasingly noticeable as you approach them. 

From today’s perspective, AI has the potential to make virtual concerts, and thus posthumous ones, a more convincing and seamless experience for audiences. 

According to The Conversation, this would mean that a particular artist is scanned in detail to create his 3D digital model, which the AI then refines. The movements are further digitized with the help of the aforementioned motion capture technology and transferred to the built model, again using artificial intelligence, to convey its peculiarities. 

To conclude, the sophistication of the future holograms is closely related to the refinement of artificial intelligence. The possibilities are endless, but the final judgment will still go to the audience. Judging by the fact that Roy Orbinson’s posthumous concert sold out about 1,800 seats, and that for some of these events tickets reach $125, it is safe to say that there is public interest. 

The most important thing, however, especially when it comes to the entertainment industry, relates to the possible misuse of artists for purposes that they would not approve of in their lifetime or the illegal income from someone’s “old glory”. 

In other words, as for all other areas where artificial intelligence is dominant, adequate and timely regulation will allow global audiences to enjoy the benefits of this technology, eliminating possible abuse and infringement of copyright and related rights, as well as intellectual property rights. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.