Through the magic of motion-capture technology, the 1977 Peter Cushing from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was brought back to life in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Though it was only featuring the likeness of Cushing, who died in 1994, another actor was brought in to “act” as Imperial Grand Moff Tarkin’s stand-in. Enter: Guy Henry, best known for his work on the BBC and in classical theater, who would inhabit the boots (so to speak) of Cushing during the duration of his screentime in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
A new video was released detailing the process ILM and Disney undertook when trying to mask Cushing/Tarkin over Henry’s performance, trying to keep the nuance of a physical actor’s presence and facial gestures (as well as voice), but super-imposing and creating a completely new digital “Peter Cushing performance.” ILM studied Cushing’s four minutes of screen time in A New Hope, paying close attention to every vocal and physical nuance of his performance. Drawing on preexisting footage of the late actor, one of the most famous Star Wars characters was returned to the screen by an actor whose face does not appear in a single frame of the movie. Concerns have grown regarding actors’ rights to their own personas and likenesses, either onscreen or in video games (just ask BoJack Horseman).
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ILM’s chief creative officer and senior VFX supervisor John Knoll said of the work:
“We can do a makeup that can turn an actor into any shape, change the proportions and make it look just like him. But if he doesn’t move his face in the same way, he literally pushes the character off model and stops looking like him. Guy Henry was driving the performance, but when he enunciates particular words, he doesn’t necessarily move his lips in exactly the same way that Peter Cushing would.”
Although it seemed jarring at first, the effect on many general moviegoerers went genuinely unnoticed. Some shots are, of course, better than others, and the ethical consideration about bringing a long-dead actor back to life in a virtually new performance is very tricky. Guy Henry, best known as Pius Thicknesse in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows and a roster of work on the BBC and theater was brought in to voice and act as performance capture artist for Tarkin (Cushing).
Through the magic of motion-capture technology, the 1977 Peter Cushing from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was brought back to life. Henry spoke a little of the process and his feelings about it:
“It was a very strange thing to get your head around…Normally as an actor you’re presented to be another character, but there’s another added complication here — it’s me pretending to be Peter Cushing pretending to be Grand Moff Tarkin…”I wasn’t comfortable throughout the whole process…”I was constantly plagued by the thought that I was going to be the tall idiot from London who let the whole thing down. When they look you in the eye and say, ‘This has never been done before in the history of film, but we think we can do it,’ you really don’t want to muck it up. For them but also Peter Cushing, who was an actor that I always admired genuinely. I didn’t want to go through this slightly weird process and let him down.”
Regardless of what any one audience member thought about the final product, it’s clear that this trend will only continue. Martin Scorsese and his team have already begun early tests on de-aging Robert De Niro for their upcoming film The Irishman. Disney has already adopted this method previously in films such as Michael Douglas in Ant-Man and Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War. We’ve seen Paul Walker’s brother step-in as they used exiting footage to digitally create Walker’s final performance in Furious 7. It will become whether or not the ethical consideration ( legal ones, too) is warranted. I’m sure many of us are completely fine with them leaving a digital Leia alone from here on out.
Images: Disney, ILM, ABC, HBO, Paramount, Lucasfilm Ltd.