Visual Time Machine

Preview image of “Visual Time Machine”
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Post-mortem in action: Carrie Fischer as Princess Leia Organa

Artificial intelligence is transforming contemporary film and bringing stories to the screen that were previously considered unfilmable.

Computer Generated Imagery, or CGI for short, describes computer-based visual effects that are inserted into video footage in post-production. The evolution from simple 2D clips to photo-realistic 3D animation that can hardly be distinguished from real footage has left a lasting mark on modern film.
Productions from the major genres of fantasy, science fiction, action and horror are well known for their advanced CGI technology. But the new digital trends are going one step further.

Despite rapid developments in the technical field, the animation of human faces and bodies had for a long time reached its limits. First attempts to digitally age actors in film were considered unconvincing and rather alienating to the critical human eye. For this reason, storylines with flashbacks to the main character’s childhood often chose similar-looking young actors and actresses. Meanwhile, the ageing of the performers traditionally resorted to the use of prosthetic make-up.

The digital de-aging process breaks new ground. It uses elaborate motion capture software to scan and analyse the human face with the aid of sensors. The animated version is subsequently brought to life through a combination of CGI, a body double and a voice double or audio recordings from the archive. The technology is costly, nevertheless, for every major Marvel release in recent years, major characters such as Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Downey Jr. have been
digitally enhanced to play younger versions of themselves.

A specially developed software enabled Robert de Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci to get a facelift in “The Irishmen” (2019) without facial markers, bodysuits or stunt doubles. By shooting with two additional cameras on both sides of the main camera in infrared, the so-called witness cameras, it was possible to better capture facial features and develop more precise 3D models of the heads.The programme then digitally transferred this data to the actor’s head completing the virtual transformation process.