De-Aging Technology And Fully CGI Characters "Raises Some Serious Issues," Andy Serkis Says

As technology advances and digitally de-aged actors begin to look less shiny and more human in big blockbuster movies, it's becoming an exciting or a disheartening time for cinema, depending on who you ask. Are fully CG characters, like the digital recreations of Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a touching homage to their legacies or cinematic sacrilege? Or is this just the future that Hollywood is heading toward?

Those are questions that are too tough to answer right away, but one that pioneering motion-capture performer Andy Serkis is attempting to draw more attention to. And, despite the technological innovations he himself has made as a digital actor, Serkis does think that the topic raises more "serious issues" than we may realize.

Speaking at the IBC Show (via Screen Daily), Serkis called attention to the potential problems that could arise down the line once studios and filmmakers gain control over an actor's image thanks to innovations with digital actors.  "The ability to create photorealistic characters, to digitally de-age actors or digitally resurrect performances from actors who have passed, raises some serious issues," Serkis said, continuing:

"When your performance becomes data it can be manipulated, reworked or sampled, much like the music industry samples vocals and beats. If we can do that, where does the intellectual property lie? Who owns authorship of the performance? Where are the boundaries?"

Serkis in particular took issue with the aforementioned digital recreation of Cushing and a young Fisher in Rogue One. The long-passed Cushing was digitally resurrected in the film as a fully CG character, using old footage and a motion-capture performer as his stand-in. Visual effects supervisor John Knoll was criticized for the ethics of this choice at the time, and Serkis stands with the critics, telling Screen Daily that he believes if a studio uses a likeness of an actor to build a digital performance, then the actor should be compensated.

Similar to concerns that robots and AI could be taking away jobs from people in other industries, Serkis fears that digital recreations could take away jobs from diverse actors. "Performance capture is the end of typecasting," he said. "With it, there should be great opportunities for disabled actors to play able-bodied characters."

He added, "It would be possible for an actor of color to play Abraham Lincoln and for me, as a middle-class white man, to play Martin Luther King. The question is whether that is ethically right. Diversity is hugely important so I can understand sensitivities about this."

These are all big questions that Serkis raises, and good ones at that. But as Hollywood studios and filmmakers alike quickly take to de-aging and digital recreations — auteurs like Martin Scorsese and Ang Lee both have upcoming films heavily relying on those technologies — it's probably not a discussion that will be resolved anytime soon. But the ethics are certainly questionable, and it may be a matter of time before cold hard regulations are brought in to prevent any abuse of this kind of tech.