How Hollywood actors are writing wills to control their CGI selves from beyond the grave

Hollywood stars can now be recreated so perfectly through technology that actors are drawing up wills to control how their digital selves perform long after their physical selves have gone, the Oscar-winning British special effects team behind the film Gravity has said.

The revelation comes after another British company, CereProc, co-produced an audio recording of John F. Kennedy “delivering” the speech he was due to give on the day he was assassinated in 1963.

According to Framestore, however, technology now allows for much more than audio creation.

Sir William Sargent, Framestore‘s chief executive, says special effects have broken the equivalent of the four-minute mile, which is to make a digital human that viewers perceive to be completely real.

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The result, he said, was that Hollywood today is toying with scripts that feature actors now in later life, such as Sean Connery or Harrison Ford, playing opposite digital creations of their younger selves.

“The only thing stopping that is cost,” said Sir William. “But whether it happens in one year or five, it will certainly happen.”

Framestore was responsible for a chocolate bar TV advertisement that featured a digital recreation of the actress Audrey Hepburn, after approval was sought from her two sons. “It was a high-risk venture because they could have stopped it at any time,” said Sir William.

“We can recreate dead actors,” said Mike McGee, Framestore‘s co-founder.

“Actors alive now are selling their image rights for films that will be made when they‘re dead. In their will, they have to decide what constraints they want for that.”

The technological barriers preventing the digital recreation of a person so perfect as to be undetectable to another human have been crossed in the last couple of years, according to Tim Webber, the effects superviser on Gravity.

“The actual world and the imagined world are coming together,” he said. “Visual effects have merged with the real.”

That poses ethical questions that the team at Framestore – founded in 1986 – never imagined they would encounter.

“I worry about the JFK example. There are so many sensitivities. You have to balance educational benefits against the wishes of friends and family.”

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