Re-aging technology is all the rage in Hollywood right now. In the past five years alone, actors such as Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Chris Evans, Keanu Reeves, Mark Hamill and Ewan McGregor have been subjected to various forms of age-altering digital wizardry in a slew of big-budget films and television series.
For the most part, these attempts to trick audiences into believing that movie stars are significantly younger or older than their off-screen counterparts are less than convincing at best and downright embarrassing at worst (I look at you, The Mandalorians). but signs suggest progress is being made.
Harrison Ford’s upcoming appearance as 30-year-old Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones 5 at least looks like it will mark a turning point in the development of re-aging technology – and Disney in particular seems to be leading the charge in improving the quality of age-altered content.
By coincidence or design, the fine folks at Disney’s visual effects department announced a major breakthrough in digital re-aging technology just a day before Lucasfilm pulled out the pen on its first Indiana Jones 5 trailer.
In a new research paper (opens in new tab)the entertainment giant touts its proprietary Face Re-aging Network, or FRAN, as “the first practical, fully automated, production-ready method for re-aging faces” — and what we’ve seen of the technology so far looks mighty impressive.
By using a program called StyleGAN2, which generates thousands of artificial faces to more accurately predict the changing appearance of the human face over long periods of time, FRAN eliminates the costly and time-consuming need to manually collect data on these changes.
In other words, Disney’s visual effects department developed an algorithm that virtually tracks the aging process to more effectively apply authentic physical changes to real-life subjects.
Get a look at FRAN in action via the demonstration video below, shared on November 30th on Disney’s DisneyResearchHub YouTube channel.
Pretty amazing, right? Disney’s report claims that FRAN “provides artists with localized control and creative freedom to direct and refine the re-aging effect,” and the House of Mouse clearly believes the technology is good enough for mainstream film and entertainment television production.
To our eyes, at least, FRAN’s results are an improvement over just about every de-aging we’ve seen in movies in recent years — and it’s likely that the software behind it costs way, way less, too.
That should be great news for filmmakers, film studios and film fans alike. For example, reportedly Scorsese’s use of de-aging effects in his 2019 gangster epic The Irishman (opens in new tab) gobbled up a large chunk of the film’s $159 million budget — a move that by most accounts was a waste of money given how inauthentic those effects turned out to be on screen.
But if movie studios can deploy re-aging technology like that enabled by FRAN — as Lucasfilm seems to have done with Indiana Jones 5 — then we could see more and more aging Hollywood heroes turn back time about time.
Sure, nothing can last forever — but who wouldn’t want Arnold Schwarzenegger to return as the Terminator in prime time for one last hooray?