Digital Doubles May Blur Ethical Lines | WGLT

Digital Doubles May Blur Ethical Lines

Jan 24, 2017

Digital recreation offers both possibilities and problems in the movie business.
Credit Woodle Wonderworks / Flickr via Creative Commons

A classic Star Wars villain made a return appearance in the most recent offering of the film series, Rogue One. While some fans were delighted, others were troubled.

In a scene set aboard the Death Star, actor Peter Cushing appears at Grand Moff Tarkin, a role he originated in the first Star Wars  film from 1977.  

Actually, no he didn't.  

Cushing died in 1994, and his part in the new film is a product of the CGI wizards at Industrial Light and Magic digitally resurrecting him for the important role.  While some fans were pleased to see the character again, others frowned on using the technology to recreate a dead performer.  

"Like it or not, this technology is here to stay," said Shari Zeck, Associate Dean of the College of Fine Arts and GLT's Culture Maven. "And that's a bit scary.  For those of us who like actors and go to the movies for actors, the notion that an actor could be contracted for a single film and their visage or their voice used ad infinitum over someone else's acting and someone else's body, in the end this will depress actor's salaries.  And it will hurt lower paid actors before it will hurt the big stars.  We've already seen it in Titanic when all those  people who were falling off the ship were not people, but were CGI. So I think it's a risk for the actor's community and I think the actor unions have to look at this seriously."  She paused, and then admitted: "But, of course, as a fan, I was happy to see Peter Cushing in this movie. From a fan point of view, it offers exciting possibilities."

To recreate the character of Tarkin, the filmmakers hired English actor Guy Henry, who wore a motion capture suit during shooting, then had Peter Cushing's face digitally superimposed over his own during post production.  The result is astonishing, if slightly eerie.  "So here's Guy Henry, who is an actual actor," said Zeck. "Who has a career and a life as an actor and has invested a lifetime of effort and sacrifice in his profession.  And his work is obliterated by this technology.  I think it behooves us to think of actors as workers, and how are we devaluing their work, those actors who are holding those virtualized faces."