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Digital De-Aging

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Actors usually aren't the same age as the characters they play. That's just part of the craft. Maybe they're playing the part over a long period of time, maybe they're reprising the part in an earlier time period. But this creates a problem when audiences are expected to believe an actor who is portraying a character who is a good decade or two younger than the actor who plays them.

For most of film history, the go-to tool for de-aging an actor has been makeup, to varying degrees of success. But modern innovations in CGI have allowed filmmakers to digitally de-age their actors, by digitally erasing wrinkles, mapping footage from the actor's youth onto the modern face, or some combination of the two. It's often a subtle variation of Serkis Folk—expect set images from films employing this technique to have actors' faces covered in plastic dots. It may also be combined with Digital Head Swap, placing the de-aged face on another actor entirely, usually a stunt double who can do things the older actor is no longer capable of or has the body proportions the character is supposed to have while the older actor doesn't have them anymore. It has allowed to mostly avoid the problems of Fake Shemp in a number of modern works.

As you might expect, this is primarily done for de-aging an adult actor into a younger adult — de-aging an adult into a child takes significantly more work, and technology isn't quite there yet. However, de-aging a child into a younger child is not unheard of (It: Chapter Two de-aged its child actors two years to appear as they did in its prequel). But it's unlikely that we'll see, for example, Drew Barrymore de-aged 45 years to match how she appeared as a child actress in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

When well-executed, it can be a nearly seamless visual effect. If done poorly, can be an example of the Unintentional Uncanny Valley.


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • A Kia commercial aired during Super Bowl LII depicts Steven Tyler driving a car in reverse and regressing in age (back to his heyday in the 1970s) in this fashion.
  • Similarly, a 2006 commercial for Citroen showed Sean Connery driving a Citroen C6 and gradually getting younger, and by the time he arrives at his destination, he looks the way he did during his 1960s heyday as James Bond.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI: NY does this with Gary Sinise playing his character, Mac Taylor, in a 15-20 year flashback to him in Chicago right before getting out of the Marines and joining the NYPD. Much like the Twin Peaks example, CGI and lighting were used, along with sepia tones.
  • Jimmy Kimmel Live!: During the show's 20th anniversary special in 2023, Jimmy Kimmel interacted with a digitally-recreated incarnation of himself from 2003.
  • Star Trek: Picard:
    • After Star Trek: Nemesis, Brent Spiner was uninterested in playing Data onscreen, believing he'd grown too old to play an ageless android, only appearing as a voice in the Star Trek: Enterprise finale "These Are The Voyages...". Thanks to advancements in digital deaging, he agreed to play Data again, appearing in Picard's dreams in season 1.
    • Season 2 does this when the immortal Q appears looking exactly like he did in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Then he alters his appearance to mock how much older Picard has become, looking like John de Lancie does now. He then maintains the old appearance throughout the rest of the season.
    • Season 3 features various flashbacks which, in addition to practical effects like makeup and wigs/hair dye, lightly de-ages the various TNG characters anywhere from 1-2 decades, depending on when the flashback in question takes place.
  • Star Wars:
    • The Mandalorian: Season 2 ends with Luke Skywalker coming to the rescue of Mando, Grogu & co. Mark Hamill's de-aged face was put on the body of stand-in Max Lloyd-Jones. The de-aged character returned in The Book of Boba Fett, looking far more accurate this time.
      • The last episode of Season 3 features Force-sensitive clones of Moff Gideon. All of them sport Giancarlo Esposito's younger face. This wasn't the first time that the actor had his face de-aged, however: similar trick was done for one episode of non-linear Netflix show Kaleidoscope.
    • Obi-Wan Kenobi Part V features flashbacks of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker set just before Attack of the Clones. While the crew did make attempts to digitally de-age Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, the results were...not great. (For one, Anakin still has noticeable facial wrinkles, making him look much older than nineteen, his age at the time.)
    • Ahsoka: Hayden is de-aged again, this time looking much more like he did in the prequel trilogy.
  • Twin Peaks: the Return features a scene where Agent Cooper saves Laura Palmer, with Sheryl Lee made youthful through a combination of CGI and lighting.
  • Season 1 of Westworld used CGI in flashbacks to show a youthful version of the character played by Anthony Hopkins. It's helped along by only appearing for a few seconds of screen time, and the character not speaking.
  • BMF bizarrely has Eminem, then aged 49, cameo as White Boy Rick, with digital deaging to make him look like a seventeen year old.

    Music 
  • In 2021, ABBA reunited to record a new album, Voyage. They digitally recreated themselves as they looked in the late 1970s for their music videos. Notably, Björn Ulvaes and Benny Andersson, both of whom were bearded at this point, had to shave their beards in order to get digitally scanned. It was especially tough for Benny, as he'd been bearded since the time ABBA had originally started.
  • The music video for Billy Joel's 2024 single "Turn The Lights Back On" depicts Joel at different points in his career from his start in the 1970s to the 2020s.

    Video Games 

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