They’re here to stay no matter your opinion on long-running franchises like Star Wars, the MCU, and The Simpsons. These companies’ profit is such that it would be financially foolish for the developers to turn away. Over time, the continued expansion of these properties can make them inscrutable to outsiders, and short of reboots, it will stay that way. There has been at least one guiding force in adding continuity to this media; however, the age of the actors. With new AI-driven technology, this might no longer be the case.
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Artificial intelligence has come a long way in the last few years, offering a hugely expanded capacity to add fake components to pictures and videos and even create entirely new media pieces. As shown by ExpressVPN, this is what is referred to as deepfakes. Recent examples of deepfakes include the pope in a puffy jacket or Vladimir Putin kissing the hand of Xi Jinping.
These exploded on social media, and while they might have instantly led anyone who has seen a few shops in their time to doubt their authenticity, many of us take what we see online at face value. We accept what we see, even if it’s not real, which has immense implications for franchise media.
AI in Movies and TV
When we talk about AI in media, God of Small Thing often covers science fiction, and while this tech is astounding, it’s also science fact. On a broad scale, the use of deepfake technology in media holds its potential in its ability to stop an actor from aging out of a role. The simpler applications of this tech were illustrated in Iron Man 3, where a de-aged Robert Downey Jr. was used to demonstrate callbacks to Tony Stark’s past. The main actor is still used, but deepfakes can take this concept beyond such basic implementation.
Going another step was best illustrated in the Star Wars show The Mandalorian, where a de-aged Mark Hamill was used for reprising the role of Luke Skywalker. The kicker? Not all of Luke’s appearance was actually Mark Hamill. As Esquire investigates, there are times Luke appears that it’s just a body double with a deepfaked face, with an addition of a faked voice. This is prime Luke appearing decades after his last appearance, without any requirement of the original actor.
Rising Concerns over Deepfakes
Using deepfakes in this way sidesteps a big concern with long-lasting franchise media but raises concerns about morality and legality. Being cast in a big project only to have your face and voice completely replaced isn’t exactly the dream of most actors and has created issues in the past. A precedent was set here when actor Crispin Glover was replaced after the first Back to the Future film, with the following two sequels still using his likeness on the double. Without his permission, the production company Universal was taken to court. This led to the Screen Actors Guild adding new clauses to protect actors.
As long as big franchises keep being popular, expect deepfakes to grow in popularity. As they become more established, cheaper to implement, and of higher quality, they present opportunities too profound to ignore. Eventually, we’re going to see major roles played by actors who have passed, and that will be a can of worms we’ll have to address when it inevitably arrives.