Your Next Favorite Actor May Be Powered By Artificial Intelligence - Updated

Computer-generated stars never get old

  • Hollywood is increasingly turning to AI-generated actors. 
  • Bruce Willis recently denied reports that he sold his image rights to an AI-powered content optimization platform. 
  • One expert says that advances in machine learning are making AI-powered actors more realistic than ever.
An illustration of an AI mapping and creating a deep fake face.

Tim Gamble / EyeEm / Getty


The next actor you see on your screen might be created by artificial intelligence (AI). 

Bruce Willis recently was rumored to have sold his image rights to Deepcake, an AI-powered content optimization platform, after he was diagnosed with aphasia—a brain disorder that affects his ability to communicate. Willis quickly denied the claim, but experts say it's an example of the growing trend of deepfakes in which computers generate realistic simulations of humans. 

"Confusion about the Bruce Willis / DeepCake deal just shows how problematic digital identities will be in the future," Stephen Smith, the CEO of StoryFile, an AI-powered conversational video company, told Lifewire in an email interview. "AI companies need to be transparent and clear about their ethics to give the public the security they need. When StoryFile created the twenty-hour conversational video with William Shatner, we committed to never making him say something he never said. When we recreate digital versions of historical figures, we work closely with their estates, writings, and archival recordings to ensure we are faithful to their likeness."

Hollywood Goes AI

AI can replicate the likeness of a real human actor, Natalie Monbiot, the head of strategy at Hour One, an AI video-generating company, told Lifewire via email. And unlike people, she said, computers can 'freeze' time in that the AI replica will never age.

"Going forward, there will be more and more acceptance of virtual humans in our lives and a focus on how we can put them to work to make our lives better," Monbiot said. "This can be to preserve and monetize your intellectual property, as in the case of celebrities, or in the case of everyday employees, to take care of repetitive jobs, or to make work more creative and rewarding. We can also expect to see a range of commercial models emerging around this technology."

Jason Cherubini, the chief operating officer of Dawn's Light Media, a film and media production company, said in an email interview that the process of using AI to simulate actors in new roles is an evolution of something that has been being done in Hollywood for years. Most notably, he said, Star Wars used past recordings and CGI to bring Leia Organa to life in "The Rise of Skywalker," even after Carrie Fisher's death. This process requires using existing footage that was then digitally altered to match the needs of the film.

This week, actor James Earl Jones announced his retirement from voicing the iconic Darth Vader. As part of his retirement from the role, he signed over the rights to his voice to the company Respeecher, which will recreate the actor's voice in future projects using proprietary AI technology, Cherubini noted.

"What is different about the new AI process is that it does not rely on existing footage and instead creates entirely new footage, mimicking the look, sound, and general feel of the actor that is being recreated," Cherubini said. "This allows an actor's likeness to take on completely original roles for years to come."

A 3D character that only has hints of features.

glamstock / Imazins / Getty Images

The Future of AI Acting

With recent advances in AI technology, the synthetic images or videos generated these days look more realistic than ever, Rishabh Misra, a machine learning engineer at Twitter, told Lifewire in an email. He pointed to a recent deep fake trailer on Youtube that showcased Tobey Maguire as the original Spiderman in "Spider-man: No Way Home." 

"Such capabilities could certainly come in handy when an actor may be suffering from a certain condition or is not alive anymore, but the success of a movie/franchise depends on it," Misra said. "AI technology may also be useful to simulate actors doing realistic stunts which may not be otherwise possible."

Misra said that companies like OpenAI and Meta recently released AI-based tools to generate realistic images or videos based only on text. "These technologies are very powerful in defining the extent of what could be possible (flying cars, humans teleporting, etc.); however, the US government has grown increasingly concerned about such technologies for their potential to spread disinformation and commit crimes online," Misra added. "Thus, while such technology and its authentic usage is growing, some type of regulations around how and when such technologies can be used safely could be expected."

Update: Deepfake video technology is even making it onto the small screen. For example, recent episodes of the BBC show “The Capture” examine how deepfakes and synthetic media can change people’s lives for the worse. The show follows a British security minister as his career is destroyed when his planned rejection of a Chinese facial recognition technology is replaced by a deepfake video showing him endorsing the technology.

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