Actors are Digitally Preserving
The suite of services that the company offers actors includes a range of different scans to capture their famous faces from every conceivable angle—making it simpler to re-create them in the future. Using hundreds of custom LED lights arranged in a sphere, numerous images can be recorded in seconds capturing what the person’s face looks like lit from every angle—and right down to the pores.
The lights can also emit different colors, emulating a variety of outdoor conditions where the digital human may be placed. This allows for more detailed and accurately colored, shaded, and reflective skin. “We capture basically how the subdermal blood flow will change in the face,” says Hendler. “We want to make sure their face is moving and the color changes that happen naturally are taking place.” The technology can also capture how an actor’s wrinkles change with different expressions, as well as how the performer walks and moves. These small details can make digital faces more believable and steer them away from a plastic-like appearance.
Digital Domain has scanned signature hairstyles, wardrobes, and props as well. The total process takes up to two days and generates five to 10 terabytes of data, depending on the extent of detail being recorded. The full selection of services can cost a million dollars.
Beau Janzen, the education lead for visual effects at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Games, and Animation, says getting the movement of the body and skin just right on digital people is still a big challenge for visual artists. Minute details like how lips open or cheek skin moves as an actor talks can be giveaways that you are watching a digitally created face. Therefore, detailed and sometimes frame-by-frame adjustments have to be made if they aren’t picked up by the model generated from the live actors.
But the special effects continue to improve, and with more actors preserving their digital likeness at a young age—whether for personal use or by big-budget studios—things could get easier. Hendler estimates that Digital Domain (which is responsible for one of the most famous digital resurrections, the Tupac hologram at Coachella) has scanned 50 to 60 people.
These detailed scans are much more accurate than working from prosthetic masks or old grainy video footage to pull a deceased actor’s likeness. For Janzen, though, bringing a person back from the dead is just like any other CGI gig. For example, he frequently swaps the faces of stunt doubles with those of the lead actors and will use CGI elements to replace various aspects of actors’ bodies. “I don’t see it as this big Rubicon to cross, because there is so much going on [in movies] that the audience isn’t aware of anyway,” he says.