Disney’s research and development into artificial intelligence is about to take another step forward, going beyond just AI to de-age actors. Earlier this year we reported how Darth Vader’s voice actor, James Earl Jones, retired from the character and gave permission for an AI startup to keep his voice alive for future productions. Before that, the company brought back Peter Cushing, the legendary British actor who played Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars film, to Rouge One: A Star Wars Story. With the Mandalorian, a de-aged Mark Hamill reprised his role as Luke Skywalker. Now, the company is going in the other direction, with a new AI-powered tool that can also age an actor.
As reported by MarkTechPost, the AI system will be able to alter an actor’s age in a given scene – a feat for the technology which can provide tremendous flexibility to directors. In the past, the standard method would be for experienced painters to go frame-by-frame to alter the actor’s physical appearance. There had been some movement to automate the process which could take days, weeks, or even months. This new system could reduce the labor costs for specialized CGI labor that specifically aims to alter the age appearance of actors. One might ask, how much of a time reduction can this technology accomplish? According to the report, the AI was able to paint an entire frame in less than five seconds. Now add to that the sheer amount of frames per scene or movie.
The AI system in question is called FRAN (Face Re-aging Network). It’s a neural network that was trained with synthetic faces that were randomly generated. To improve quality, the researchers generated images at random ages for FRAN to train on. This method allowed the program to train without the need for thousands of photos of the same people at different ages, lighting, poses, etc.
So does this mean that those CGI specialists might be losing work hours due to this new tool? Not quite yet according to MarkTechPost. It seems that the program still has some limitations. For example, practical effects make-up art is still reliable. FRAN still has issues with fluidity changes, lighting, and depth-of-view. It also has problems with drastic changes such as re-aging. So it’s still too early for FRAN to put artists out of work. Though it’s likely it will give directors and actors alternatives in the future during production.
You can see for yourself how FRAN works in a video uploaded by Disney Research Hub’s YouTube channel last week to see how they age or de-age actors: