Movie Studios Creating 3D Digital Scans to Preserve Actors

Next year, an Amy Winehouse hologram will be on tour to collect money for an eponymous charity. She’s the latest in a trend of deceased actors, from Carrie Fisher in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” to Paul Walker in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, appearing as virtual 3D replicas. Now, some actors and studios are getting a jump on post-life value by creating 3D digital scans. Industrial Light & Magic just scanned Ingvild Deila, who was Princess Leia in “Rogue One.” She calls it “a safe bet for the people with the money.”

MIT Technology Review reports that ILM went beyond that, scanning all the leads in the “Star Wars” franchise. “We will always digitally scan all the lead actors in the film,” said visual effects supervisor Ben Morris. “We don’t know if we’re going to need them.”

For actors, 3D replicas are a way to make money beyond the grave as well as preserve their legacy and their youthful image. VFX company Digital Domain is doing the same for celebrities, although the company’s Digital Humans Group director Darren Hendler noted that they aren’t publicizing the service. His company offers “a range of different scans to capture their famous faces from every conceivable angle,” using an array of hundreds of LED lights arranged in a sphere to capture dozens of images per second. The lights also “emit different colors, emulating a variety of outdoor conditions where the digital human may be placed.”

The process — which takes up to two days and generates up to 10 TB of data — captures all the details that makes digital faces believable “as well as how the performer walks and moves.” DD also scans “signature hairstyles, wardrobes, and props.” With a price tag of up to $1 million,“the technology is primarily restricted to movie studios for the time being.” But individual actors might be willing to pay for such a scan if it means they can license their images to studios after death, making money for their families.

These scans aren’t yet perfect — Peter Cushing’s return as the Grand Moff Tarkin in “Rogue One” generated “mixed reactions,” with some people feeling they were in the uncanny valley, the term for virtual humans that are almost, but not quite, human.

At the Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Games & Animation, VFX education lead Beau Janzen pointed out that, “getting the movement of the body and skin just right on digital people is still a big challenge for visual artists,” with minute details being responsible for giving away that it’s digital not real. But he also reported that 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 said. “Anything you can use to make your movie better, your story better, it’s going to get used.”