De-aging in motion pictures

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

In motion pictures, whether for film (cinema), television, or streaming, de-aging is a visual effects technique used to make an actor or actress look younger, especially for flashback scenes. This is often accomplished via digitally editing the image or using computer-generated imagery (CGI) overlays or touch-ups. Some media will even create de-aged digital actors from scratch or with a mixture of stand-ins and CGI.

Motion pictures employing digital de-aging techniques[edit]

List of films[edit]

The following is a list of films, in chronological order of release, that employ de-aging techniques:

Year Film Description
2006 X-Men: The Last Stand Actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, who play the mutants Professor X and Magneto respectively, are de-aged in a flashback scene in which the two work together to recruit a mutant girl (Jean Grey) as a student.[1][2]
2006 The Departed Jack Nicholson was de-aged briefly in a flashback set in the early 1980s.
2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Based on a short story in which the protagonist ages backwards, actor Brad Pitt, who plays Benjamin Button, is initially shown as elderly and is gradually de-aged to look progressively younger as numerous decades of the character's life go by.[3][4][1]
2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine In this superhero film, Patrick Stewart, who plays mutant Professor X, is de-aged for a brief cameo appearance, as the film takes place earlier in the timeline than the previous films of the series in which Stewart participated.[5] Though Danny Huston appears as Major William Stryker in the finished film, his X2 actor Brian Cox initially expressed interest to reprise the role by employing the same CGI program applied to Stewart and Ian McKellen in The Last Stand opening sequence.[6]
2009 Surrogates Bruce Willis plays an FBI agent who controls a look-alike humanoid robot de-aged to appear in his mid 30s. The effect supervised by visual effects artist Mark Stetson relied on makeup, lighting, and digital effects.[7]
2010 Tron: Legacy A sequel to Tron (1982), set 28 years later, actor Jeff Bridges, who plays the protagonist Kevin Flynn in the original film, is de-aged to appear as Flynn's younger self in flashbacks and as the corrupt program CLU, a copy of Flynn himself, but decades younger.[1][8] Rather than using footage from the original Tron as visual reference, Bridges' likeness was recreated with archive footage from Against All Odds (1984).[9] Bruce Boxleitner, who plays the title character of Tron, also appears de-aged in flashbacks; his real world character of Alan Bradley, however, appears as the actor's natural age.
2011 Ra.One The film centred around a video game, where the characters, G.One and Ra.One takes physical form and enters the real world. Shah Rukh Khan plays a dual role in the film as Shekhar Subramaniam and G.One. Khan was de-aged for the part of G.One to make him look like a video game character.
2011 Hugo Ben Kingsley was de-aged for flashback scenes of a younger Georges Melies.
2013 Grudge Match A film about Robert De Niro (Billy "The Kid" McDonnen) and Sylvester Stallone (Henry "Razor" Sharp) as boxing rivals. In the beginning of the film, both actors are de-aged to show them fighting each other in their youth/prime. The rest of the film is set several decades later.
2013 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug This film is set decades before The Lord of the Rings film trilogy; actor Orlando Bloom reprises his role as the Elf character Legolas and is de-aged in his scenes, to reflect the fact that the film's Elves do not age.[1]
2014 Kingsman: The Secret Service Michael Caine was digitally de-aged for a scene set in 1975 featuring his character. This scene was ultimately cut from the film and has never been publicly released.[10]
2015 Ant-Man Michael Douglas and Martin Donovan, who play Hank Pym and Mitchell Carson, are both de-aged by 25 years, in a flashback scene set in 1989.[3][11][8][4]
2016 Pee-wee's Big Holiday In this comedy film, actor Paul Reubens reprises his role as Pee-wee Herman 28 years after the previous Pee-wee film. De-aging was applied to Reubens to make him appear the same age as he was in his last appearance. During filming, Reubens wore powder and tape on his face.[1][4]
2016 Fan In this Indian film, Shah Rukh Khan stars in a double role as film star Aryan Khanna and obsessive fan Gaurav Chandna, who looks like Aryan but is around twenty years younger. Khan was de-aged for the part of Gaurav with a combination of visual effects and prosthetics.
2016 Captain America: Civil War Robert Downey Jr., who plays Tony Stark, is de-aged in a digital recreation of a pivotal moment from the character's youth. LolaVFX analyzed footage of Downey from Less than Zero (1987) as reference to achieve the youthful appearance Downey had around that period.[3]
2016 American Pastoral Jennifer Connelly, who plays Dawn, is de-aged to look roughly 25 years younger. LolaVFX took inspiration from her appearance in The Rocketeer (1991), focusing on the volume of her facial features.[12]
2016 Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Terence Stamp, who plays Abe Portman, is de-aged in the scenes in the loop of September 3, 1943, when he was in the army.
2017 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Kurt Russell, who plays Ego, is de-aged in a flashback scene set on Earth in 1980.[11] Visual effects supervisor Trent Claus disclosed that director James Gunn desired to use Escape from New York (1981) as a visual reference for Russell's appearance in the film's flashback, but given how Russell's character wore an eyepatch in that film, the VFX crew could just use that film to take notes of how his skin folded and moved, ultimately choosing Russell's appearance in Used Cars (1980) as the base reference.[13] Laura Haddock, who previously played Meredith Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), was similar de-aged to a slight degree to enable her to play a young Meredith.[14]
2017 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales In this swashbuckler, Johnny Depp, who plays the main character Captain Jack Sparrow, is de-aged for a flashback scene, with Anthony De La Torre standing in for him while wearing a digital replication of Depp's face depicting him as he looked back in 21 Jump Street (1987–1991) and What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993).[11]
2017 Kingsman: The Golden Circle Colin Firth was de-aged for a flashback scene, years before the events of Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014).
2018 Ant-Man and the Wasp Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne who play Hank Pym, Janet van Dyne and Bill Foster, respectively, are de-aged in flashback sequences.[15]
2018 Aquaman Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman are de-aged through CGI, to portray Aquaman's parents, Thomas Curry and Atlanna, in opening scenes set during Aquaman's childhood. In addition, CGI was used to de-age Willem Dafoe for the scene where Nuidis Vulko trains the young Arthur Curry.[16]
2019 Captain Marvel Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg, who portray Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, are de-aged by 23 years for the entire film as it is set in 1995 (but filmed in 2018), whereas the previous films in which they had appeared in these roles had all been set in the present day. In Jackson's case, according to LolaVFX supervisor Trent Claus, they watched several of Jackson's films from the 1990s to determine which ones they would use as visual reference, ultimately mainly choosing One Eight Seven (1997) and bits of Loaded Weapon 1 (1993) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).[17][18]
2019 Avengers: Endgame Multiple actors were digitally de-aged for different sequences. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner were digitally de-aged for their 2012 appearances that recreate scenes from The Avengers (2012) in which they respectively portray Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton.[19] Michael Douglas, John Slattery and Stan Lee were also digitally de-aged for their 1970s appearances, in which they respectively portray Hank Pym, Howard Stark and a car driver, the latter being Lee's final cameo role. The final cut of the film features 200 de-aging and aging shots.[20]
2019 It Chapter Two Horror sequel in which child actors Jaeden Martell, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff and Jackson Robert Scott are digitally de-aged to reprise their roles from It (2017) in flashback scenes, having visibly aged in the two-year interval.[21]
2019 Gemini Man In this science fiction film, actor Will Smith is de-aged to portray a younger clone of his character.[22]
2019 The Irishman In this epic crime film, actors Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci are digitally de-aged to portray younger versions of Frank Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa and Russell Bufalino respectively.[23]
2020 Bill & Ted Face the Music A comic science fiction film starring Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted "Theodore" Logan, portraying younger and older versions of Bill & Ted.
2021 Coming 2 America In this comedic sequel, Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall are de-aged in a flashback.
2021 Candyman Tony Todd, reprising his role as the original Candyman, appears de-aged at the end of the film.
2021 Spider-Man: No Way Home Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina reprised their roles as Norman Osborn / Green Goblin and Otto Octavius / Doctor Octopus, respectively, and were both de-aged by 19 and 17 years respectively to match their younger appearances from Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004), respectively.[24][25]
2022 Scream Skeet Ulrich reprises his role of Billy Loomis from the original Scream (1996), de-aged to appear as he did in 1996, in scenes featuring his daughter Sam Carpenter hallucinating with him due to him being her biological father.
2022 The Adam Project In this science fiction film, actress Catherine Keener is de-aged to portray a younger version of her character.
2022 The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Nicolas Cage portrays Nicky Cage, a figment of Cage's imagination, seen as a younger Wild at Heart (1990)-era version of himself.
2022 Acharya A de-aged Chiranjeevi appears as a younger version of his character in a flashback scene.
2022 Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers A de-aged Paula Abdul appears as herself in a flashback scene.
2022 Vikram A de-aged Kamal Haasan appears as himself in flashback scenes. The appearance for these scenes were referenced from the actor's 1986 movie which incidentally had the same title. The de-aged shots was not included on final film. Lokesh confirmed that on interview after the movie release, stating that " We initially planned to get up with visual effects company on UK and US. But it drastically increased the final budget of the film for a scene of 1 minute. So Lokesh, give that work to Indian company with limited budget. And adding that he is on mindset, if the output was not good he will remove that from final cut. Before going Censor, he feels like quality was not up to much and required more time to achieve this. So he took call to cut off. There was 6 more months work to go and if goes well, he is planning for that release as exclusive content via some other medium"
2022 Orphan: First Kill Isabelle Fuhrman is de-aged from Fuhrman's age, 25 to 9 years old, around 13 years, to recapture Fuhrman's age in the first film Orphan (2009) for the prequel film. Noticeably, Fuhrman wasn't de-aged using CGI, like many other cases with de-aging, instead being de-aged with practical effects such a combination of forced perspective shots, camera angles and makeup.
2022 Samaritan A de-aged Sylvester Stallone appears in a flashback scene.
2022 Lifemark Kirk Cameron and Rebecca Rogers, who play Jimmy and Susan Colton; the adoptive parents of the main character David Colton, were de-aged to make them look roughly 20 years younger to depict them at around the age that Jimmy and Susan would have been when they first adopted David in flashback scenes.[26]
2022 Laal Singh Chaddha In this Indian Hindi-language comedy-drama film starring Aamir Khan and directed by Advait Chandan, Shah Rukh Khan appears in a cameo appearance, playing a teenage version of himself. He was de-aged to portray the teenage version.
2022 Avatar: The Way of Water Stephen Lang, Matt Gerald and Giovanni Ribisi are respectively de-aged to match their appearances as Miles Quaritch, Lyle Wainfleet and Parker Selfridge in Avatar (2009) for video recordings the Avatar Recombinants of the former two see that took place prior to the first film's climax. Sigourney Weaver is also de-aged to match her appearance as Dr. Grace Augustine from the original film in a dream sequence her Avatar's daughter Kiri experiences when connecting to Eywa.
2023 Scream VI Like in Scream (2022), Skeet Ulrich reprises his role of Billy Loomis from the original Scream (1996), de-aged to appear as he did in 1996, in scenes featuring his daughter Sam Carpenter hallucinating with him due to him being her biological father.
2023 Fast X Joaquim de Almeida is de-aged to reprise his role as Hernan Reyes for the film's flashback sequences taking place during the events of Fast Five (2011), for which Jason Momoa is de-aged as well due to the tenth film's retconning of his character Dante Reyes, Hernan's son, in the fifth film.
2023 The Flash Michael Shannon is de-aged for the alternate 2013 timeline created by Barry Allen / The Flash to match his appearance as Zod in Man of Steel (2013). Helen Slater and Nicolas Cage are also de-aged for the film for their respective cameos as Supergirl from the 1984 film of the same name and Superman from the unproduced film Superman Lives.
2023 Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Harrison Ford is de-aged for the film's opening sequence, which consists of a World War II flashback of Indiana Jones fighting Nazis set in 1944, for which Ford was de-aged back to how he looked during the release period of the first three Indiana Jones films in order to recapture the feeling that the footage was shot in the 1980s. To achieve this, Industrial Light & Magic trawled archive material of a younger Ford and matched it with freshly shot footage in addition to giving Ford the original jacket he used in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Ford was "spooked" a bit with the result, but anyway impressed for its realism, yet affirmed that the technology didn't make him feel nostalgia for his youth.[27] Impressionist Anthony Ingruber served as the character's on-set body double before Ford's likeness and voice were inserted over him through CGI.[28] Mads Mikkelsen was also de-aged to portray his character Dr. Jürgen Voller younger, but through a different method.[29]
2024 Here Tom Hanks and Robin Wright will be de-aged through methods such as new hyperrealistic technology and AI-generated face replacements for the film adaptation of Richard McGuire's comic strip "Here" (2014) in order to allow Hanks and Wright to star in the plot, which spans generations. Director Robert Zemeckis cited his need to employ de-aging for the film due to Metaphysic's feeling as the "global leaders" of the feature-quality AI content necessary to help him tell the film's story, which wouldn't work out without Hanks and Wright seamlessly transforming into younger versions of themselves.[30]

List of television series[edit]

The following is a list of television series, in chronological order of release, that employ de-aging techniques:

Year Television series Description
2016 Westworld In the first season episode "The Stray", Anthony Hopkins was de-aged to appear as a younger Dr. Robert Ford in a flashback. Visual effects supervisor Jay Worth stated to figure out how they wanted Hopkins to look like with photography and references, for which they used all movies and photos the actor appeared in before his breakthrough role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Important Looking Pirates took a scan of Hopkins and produced a photorealistic CG version of the thespian that was placed on a stand-in's body.[31]
2017 Twin Peaks In the third season episode "Part 17", Sheryl Lee was digitally de-aged through a combination of lightning and CGI to appear as a youthful Laura Palmer when Agent Dale Cooper time travels back to the past to save her.
2021 WandaVision In the episode "Previously On", Kathryn Hahn is digitally de-aged for the opening flashback sequence revealing her character Agatha Harkness' origin story that takes place in 1693's Salem, Massachusetts.
2022 Star Trek: Picard At the end of the second-season premiere, John de Lancie appears as Q did in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994) for a few moments, before the character uses his powers to instantly age his physical appearance (reflecting de Lancie's current age) to match Patrick Stewart's, who is playing an elderly Jean-Luc Picard.

In addition, Patrick Stewart himself and Jonathan Frakes (playing William Riker) were de-aged for several flashback sequences set in the years between TNG's events and the series' present, shown throughout the third season.

2022 Obi-Wan Kenobi In the episode "Part V", both Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen are de-aged 20 to 17 years to match their appearances as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker respectively from Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) in flashback scenes which take place during the timeframe of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
2022 Better Call Saul While de-aging wasn't employed for most of the show for characters like Giancarlo Esposito's Gus Fring or Jonathan Banks' Mike Ehrmantraut, episode writer/director Thomas Schnauz confirmed that in the sixth season episode "Breaking Bad", some de-aging was used to erase some lines from the faces of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul to enable them to reprise their roles as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman for scenes that take place during the timeframe of the Breaking Bad second season episode "Better Call Saul".[32]
2022 Cobra Kai In the fifth season episode "Ouroboros", William Zabka is de-aged with the use of a body double to match Zabka's appearance as a younger Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid (1984).[33]
2022–2023 Willow For some flashbacks sequences in the series premiere "The Gales" and its second episode "The High Aldwin", Warwick Davis and Joanne Whalley are de-aged to match their appearances as Willow Ufgood and Queen Sorsha in Willow (1988).
2023 Kaleidoscope In the episode "Violet: 24 Years Before the Heist", Giancarlo Esposito and Rufus Sewell are de-aged to appear as they did 24 years earlier from 2022, in 1998.[34][35]
2023 Secret Invasion In the episodes "Promises", "Betrayed" and "Beloved", Samuel L. Jackson and Charlayne Woodard were de-aged respectively to portray younger versions from Nick Fury and Varra / Priscilla Davis during scenes set in 1997, 1998 and 2012.
2023 Ahsoka In the episodes "Part Four: Fallen Jedi", "Part Five: Shadow Warrior", "Part Seven: Dreams and Madness" and "Part Eight: The Jedi, the Witch and the Warlord", much like in Obi-Wan Kenobi, Hayden Christensen gets de-aged to match his appearance as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), such as in the scenes where he meets again with his Padawan Ahsoka Tano in the World Between Worlds, transporting her to scenarios they had during Clone Wars, where Ahsoka is played by Ariana Greenblatt rather than Rosario Dawson.[36]
TBA Stranger Things For the fifth season of the show, de-aging will be used to give the impression that the younger cast hasn't aged since the release of the fourth season, as filming on the fifth season delayed thanks to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike; producer Shawn Levy has stated that the de-aging used for the actors may involve make-up and costumes, but not the use of artificial intelligence.[37]

Virtual actors in motion pictures[edit]

In some cases, a young version of a character is not played by the original actor but by a virtual actor, even though the actor being represented is usually still alive. This is usually accomplished with some combination of CGI, a body double, and a voice double or archival audio. Examples of actors who were replaced by virtual actors to portray their younger selves include:

List of films[edit]

Year Actor Film Description
2009 Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator Salvation The likeness of a younger Schwarzenegger as the T-800 from The Terminator (1984) is virtually recreated,[38] with Roland Kickinger serving as the body double.
2015 Terminator Genisys For a scene which depicts the same T-800 from The Terminator, Brett Azar served as body double for Schwarzenegger's 1984 likeness.[1][8]
2016 Peter Cushing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Peter Cushing's portrayal of Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars (1977) is digitally recreated, with Guy Henry serving as both the body and voice double.[39][40]
Carrie Fisher In the film's closing scene, Carrie Fisher's 1977 likeness as Princess Leia from Star Wars (1977) is digitally recreated, with Ingvild Deila serving as body double and archive audio of Fisher's voice (taken from outtakes of her hologram scene in Star Wars), being used.[40]
2017 Sean Young Blade Runner 2049 Sean Young's portrayal of Rachael from Blade Runner (1982) is recreated in the scene where a clone of the replicant is created by Niander Wallace and offered to Rick Deckard in an (ultimately rejected) exchange for information. Young's likeness was digitally superimposed onto Loren Peta, who studied Young's performance from the first film to recreate her voice and movements.[41]
2019 Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator: Dark Fate Although all but Furlong appeared in the film as their current ages, virtual actors were used for their characters Terminator, Sarah Connor and John Connor in flashback scenes. Brett Azar, Maddy Curley and Jude Collie served as the three characters' body doubles, respectively.
Linda Hamilton
Edward Furlong
2019 Mark Hamill Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker For a brief flashback sequence in this epic space opera film, a young Carrie Fisher's and Mark Hamill's likenesses as Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker from following Return of the Jedi (1983) are digitally recreated using archival footage — Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd served as body double for her, while Lukaz Leong served as body double for Hamill.[42]
Carrie Fisher
2021 Harold Ramis Ghostbusters: Afterlife Bob Gunton and producer Ivan Reitman portrayed the living and ghostly versions of Egon Spengler respectively through the use of prosthetics and digital makeup, digitally recreating the likeness of Harold Ramis from Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989).[43][44][45]

List of television series[edit]

Year Actor Series Season Episode Description
2020 Mark Hamill The Mandalorian Season 2 "Chapter 16: The Rescue" In "Chapter 16: The Rescue", the sixteenth episode of The Mandalorian (2019–present), a young Mark Hamill's likeness as Luke Skywalker from the decade following Return of the Jedi (1983) is digitally recreated; Max Lloyd Jones served as body double, while Hamill's younger voice was recreated using speech synthesis through machine learning.
2021 The Book of Boba Fett "Chapter 6: From the Desert Comes a Stranger" In "Chapter 6: From the Desert Comes a Stranger", the sixth episode of The Book of Boba Fett (2021–2022), Hamill's likeness as Skywalker is recreated again; Graham Hamilton was the on-set performer for the character. Skywalker was largely created through visual effects and synthesized speech based on reference images and recordings, respectively, of Hamill.
2022 Millie Bobby Brown Stranger Things Season 4 In the fourth season of Stranger Things (2016–present), a younger pre-Stranger Things Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven / Jane Hopper ("El") was digitally recreated, with Martie Blair serving as her body double. Blair stood-in for the 9-year-old version of Eleven, with her face digitally replaced with Brown's own in post-production.[46]


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