As wonderful as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is, I still can’t wrap my head around the CGI characters of Grand Moff Tarkin and a young princess Leia… They just don’t look real to me and I think it’s because the eyes are too damn shiny, which gives the face this glossy mannequin look. Marvel on the other hand just delivered a de-aged Kurt Russell in Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 and I could not tell that he was CGI. Not one damn bit. Why is Marvel making better CGI faces than anyone else? Turns out it isn’t the technology, but rather it comes down to plain ol’ hard work and artistry from Lola VFX.
In an older interview with Vulture, Trent Claus of Lola VFX, spoke on the process of making Michael Douglas look younger through computer generated effects in Ant-Man. This company also worked on X-Men 3, Game of Thrones, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and they even made Chris Evans all frail and skinny in the first Captain America film. So — they’ve been doing it correctly for some time now and they’ve only gotten better.
“The basic tools have been the same for decades. It’s more the experience of the artists that are actually doing the work.” said Claus in terms of the technology used to make actors appear younger or older on film. “The most obvious thing is that the skin along the jaw in most people tends to get lower and lower and sag a little bit as you get older. Particularly around the throat and the Adam’s Apple area, you’ll get a build-up of extra skin down there. One thing we’ll have to do to de-age someone is restore that elasticity and try to not only to remove the excess skin, but pull it back up to where it once was.” he continued.
In some films, they’ll actually cast a different performer entirely, which they HAD to do in the case of resurrecting Tarkin for Rogue One since the original actor, Peter Cushing passed away in 1994 and his last appearances as Tarkin was in the original Star Wars film four decades prior. That actor (in Rogue One being Guy Henry) will then do the voice and wear a motion-capture rig on their face which will then be digitally replaced in post to give us Cushing in the final product. They did the same thing for a young Princess Leia by using a stand-in and then digitally changing the actress’ face afterwards. I think that when they do this, it makes the final result look even less realistic to me. The CGI is impressive, but it has this uncanny valley effect, where the slightest artificial detail or gloss drives me even more nuts than say, The Rock in The Mummy Returns (2001) where the CGI was just atrocious altogether.
The first time I became familiar with CGI being used to de-age an actor, was in Tron: Legacy, where they used the effect on Jeff Bridges to make him look as he did in the original cult classic. I hated the look. The eyes looked dead to me and the glossy finish was so distracting that I couldn’t get into the film during any of young Bridges’ scenes and he was a very prominent character with a lot of screentime. The same thing happened with Terminator Salvation when they digitally resurrected Arnold Schwarzenegger for a quiet cameo… Awful… Thankfully by the time Terminator Genisys came out – the artistry improved by quite a bit. It wasn’t perfect, but it was MUCH better…
If the tech hasn’t changed much in decades, then according to Trent Claus of Lola VFX, it really comes down to the digital artist who has to make that magic happen. Marvel Studios just happen to be delivering the most believable finished product today on the big-screen. Their de-aged work on Kurt Russell, Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Douglas is damn near perfection.
I remember walking out of Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 and one of the things that stuck with me the most, was how damn stunning young CGI Kurt Russell looked. That shit was real to me – unbelievable work.
“A company named Lola did the effects, and they did an incredible job. First we film every scene with Kurt. A young actor, Aaron Schwartz – who has a lot of similar facial features to Kurt – watches everything he does. He then goes in and mimics exactly Kurt’s actions. We then take Kurt’s acting and general face and body and place Aaron’s skin onto him. It is a long, painstaking process that took many, many months to accomplish.” said Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 Director James Gunn in an interview with Cinemablend.
I am extremely picky when it comes to CGI faces on human characters so thank goodness for Lola VFX and their astonishing artistry. Marvel Studios should just keep making their actors younger in every film because it blows me away every time. Everyone else – take notes… You still have some work to do.
Go to Lola VFX.com for more info and to see their groundbreaking effects which I consider to be the best in Hollywood. You can also see their work in the latest Pirates of The Caribbean flick because they were responsible for de-aging Johnny Depp in that one too.