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Digital Head Swap

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Relatively recent among filmmaking effects because it's very difficult to do without CGI, this is a technique that makes it possible for an actor to be uninhibited by the limitations of his body type. It's mostly used for comedic purposes, creating a sort of Mix-and-Match Critter situation with a man's head on a woman's body, or something similarly ridiculous. Also popular is the method of putting a real face on an otherwise CGI character or vice versa. It can also be done to hide the use of stunt doubles or just to fix a shot in which someone's face is obscured or otherwise not ideal for the film. Digital Deaging is a similar effect in which an actor's own face is made to look younger, which can be applied along with a head-swap.

Done poorly, especially in early cases when the technique was not perfected, this can easily dip into the Unintentional Uncanny Valley, although this effect can also be invoked on purpose.

Nothing to do with Head Swap, which is a Video Game technique to increase the number of characters by reusing the same body.

Special Effects Examples:

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  • Some commercials for Orville Redenbacher's popcorn featured the company's namesake CGI'd post-mortem onto a real actor's body.
  • A 2003 Gatorade commercial featuring Michael Jordan, then 39 years old, featured him going up against his 23-year-old self, with Jordan's de-aged head superimposed over Kevin Daley's, who also wore Jordan's original Chicago Bulls rookie uniform for added effect. It works for the most part, thanks to both wide shots, and Daley's head being partially obscured in shadow in most shots; though some angles make it painfully obvious that the younger Jordan's head is CG'd.

    Films — Animation 
  • Beowulf does this, after a fashion, for the lead actor, Ray Winstone. The whole thing was filmed using motion capture, and Winstone claimed they put his head on his eighteen-year-old body. The same sort of thing was done with Angelina Jolie.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Al Davis vs. the NFL, a 2021 documentary that's part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series, digitally reconstructed the film's two main characters, both long deceased—Al Davis, owner of the team now known as the Las Vegas Raiders, and Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner with whom Davis frequently clashed. The filmmakers were aided in this process by having access to a large amount of NFL Films footage of both men.
  • In Alice in Wonderland (2010), Tweedledee and Tweedledum have actors' heads on digital bodies. As well, the Red Queen's head is greatly enlarged.
  • Used in Baby Geniuses quite conspicuously to have the baby do various dances in the middle of a mall, do fight scenes against adults, and so on.
  • An early non-CGI example in the movie Bachelor Party, where Tom Hanks's character is conflicted about sleeping with another woman before his wedding and sees several heads of his wife, his male friends, and a nun, superimposed upon the girl's naked torso, exhorting him to either do it or not, Floating Advice Reminder style.
  • In Being John Malkovich, when John Malkovich goes into the door (and inside his own mind), he sees numerous clones of himself (both males and females), all with Malkovich's face digitally superimposed on everyone. At least partially it is actually a subversion: They used physical masks and make-up extensively through the scene, though, probably, digital make-up, as well.
  • Blade Runner:
    • The original version had a shot during Zhora's death where it was obvious that a stunt double (more specifically, the awful cheap wig they had to use) was standing in for the actress. For the 2007 Final Cut, actress Joanna Cassidy's face was digitally superimposed over that of the stunt double.
    • Blade Runner 2049 has this to recreate Rachael.
  • The Adam Sandler vehicle Click, during the segment in which his character was enormously fat.
  • The Crow: Brandon Lee's face was digitally grafted onto a stunt performer's body for a small smattering of scenes not yet shot at the time of his death, including Lee's character looking into a mirror at his trashed apartment.
  • Free Guy: Dude, the NPC Antwan had created based on "blue shirt guy", is played by both bodybuilder Aaron W. Reed and Ryan Reynolds. Aaron provides the body and the physical stunts while Ryan provides the digitally added face and voice. Dude's CGI is intentionally poor, reflecting his In-Universe Obvious Beta status.
  • Game of Death. In order to complete the movie after the death of Bruce Lee, they hired a Fake Shemp to stand in for Lee by either obscuring most of his face with sunglasses or, in one infamous moment, pasting a cardboard cutout of Bruce's face onto a mirror to act as the double's reflection.
  • Although Margot Robbie did a lot of real skating for I, Tonya, this was used for the really difficult moves.
  • Jack and Jill (2011), also with Adam Sandler, this time playing his own sister.
  • Used for intentional Uncanny Valley effect during the Nightmare Sequence of the film Junior, in a moment that sent The Nostalgia Critic screaming out of the room.
  • Possibly the Trope Codifier for the digital age is Jurassic Park (1993), which did this out of necessity. During an action scene, a stunt double who was suspended over a mat (which later became a raptor's mouth) looked directly up at the camera. Normally this would have ruined the shot, but the effects team were able to splice the normal actress' face over that of the double, turning an otherwise unusable piece of film into a particularly heart-stopping moment.
  • Digital head replacements pop up in the Kingsman movies.
    • In Kingsman: The Secret Service, Taron Egerton's head is obviously placed on top of a stunt double's body in the final moments of Eggsy's climactic fight against Gazelle.
    • In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Elton John's head was superimposed on a stunt double performing a strenuous action sequence. And in the climax, the end of the battle required all three actors' heads be placed on doubles because the stunt team and special effects team couldn't figure out how to execute the sequence during production and the actors weren't available at the same time for reshoots.
  • Kung Pow! Enter the Fist is probably the most spectacular use of this trope, and certainly the most ridiculous. Steve Oedekerk took a 1970's Kung Fu movie and used this technique to composite his head over the main character's (or just plain replace the main character's whole body), essentially pulling a Digital Head Swap for at least half of the movie. And then he dubbed every character's voice save one, including his own.
  • The Wayans brothers vehicle Little Man, wherein Marlon took position on the body of a child actor.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, this was one of the techniques used to create the illusion of small Hobbits, with actors' faces placed digitally (and sometimes, in wide shots, with just masks) over smaller doubles.
  • Done for Guru Pitka's child self (with Mike Myers' normal head) in The Love Guru.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • In The Matrix Reloaded, Hugo Weaving's head was digitally overlaid on the bodies of the stunt double "Agent Smiths" in the Burly Brawl sequence.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales has a flashback with a young Jack Sparrow, done by pasting the face of late 1980s Johnny Depp.
  • Done in The Social Network with the Winklevoss twins, who were played by two different actors with Armie Hammer's face CGI'd onto his body double.
  • In Soul Surfer, the real Bethany Hamilton was her own stunt double, with AnnaSophia Robb's face digitally melded onto her body.
  • Star Wars:
    • In Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, this was done with Count Dooku and Palpatine for their lightsaber battles, quite necessarily given the ages of their actors Christopher Lee and Ian McDiarmid.
    • In Rogue One, Peter Cushing's head was digitally placed on the head of Guy Henry in his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. At the end, the head of young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia was digitally placed on the head of another actor during a brief scene where the Princess receives the stolen plans for the Death Star.
    • In The Rise of Skywalker, Carrie Fisher's young face is again seen, along with Mark Hamill's, on the heads of stunt doubles in a brief flashback showing Luke Skywalker training Leia as a Jedi. For Fisher, her daughter, Billie Lourd, did the body doubling.
  • Terminator Salvation had this to feature Arnold Schwarzenegger in spite of him being Governor of California at the time, by pasting a replica of his face in the original movie onto a T-800. Terminator Genisys did the same for "younger" versions of the T-800 (though in the case of one that fights naked, the CG artists took it one step further and placed an entire digital torso).
  • In Titanic when Jack and Rose are running down a flooded hallway, their faces are superimposed over stunt doubles. It's noticeable, though, as the sequence was longer and in slow motion.
  • A rather impressive example in TRON: Legacy where Jeff Bridges' 20-year-younger head is digitally re-created to portray CLU, while he plays Kevin Flynn as his current self. Jeff Bridges performed the voice and motion capture for the younger CG face, but another actor entirely (John Reardon) filled CLU's glowy shoes.
  • Zack Snyder's Justice League: To portray Ares in the ancient battle against Darkseid, the face of Wonder Woman Ares actor David Thewlis (with a fake beard and mustache) was superimposed on the body of bodybuilder and stuntman Nick McKinless.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Doppelgangland", where Alyson Hannigan's head was placed on her stunt double's body so she could interact with her vampire self in a few scenes.
  • The George Lopez Show did this incredibly obviously in its flashbacks, with the adult actors' heads pasted onto child actors' bodies.
    • Subverted in a couple of old photographs of George, where they used an actual child's head.
  • Subverted with a segment on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon titled "Head Swap", which is introduced as this trope, but the theme song gets derailed into a Random Events Plot that takes up the entire segment. See an example here.
  • Nancy Marchand (who played Livia Soprano in The Sopranos) died in the interim between filming seasons 2 and 3, leading the producers to have to drop a story arc and kill her character off. In the second episode of the third season, "Proshai, Livushka", the producers combined this with a stunt double and alternate takes of dialogue to give her one last scene, at a cost of $250,000. The results were... less than convincing.
  • In an episode of That '70s Show, where after getting high, Kelso sees Kitty's and Red's heads on each other's bodies.
  • In Doctor Who, this has been used numerous times to revive Classic Doctors for cameos whose actors aren't young/alive enough to convincingly portray their version of the character. Drew some criticism in the significant shot of them all standing together in the ending of "The Day of the Doctor", which involved a waxwork Tom Baker head that looked nothing like him and some neck attachment problems. Well-received when reviving the First and Fourth Doctor for cameos in the "Save the Day" trailer, "Name of the Doctor" and "The Witch's Familiar", though.
  • The Mandalorian did it again in the Star Wars franchise with Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, with his younger head on a body double's body, while Hamill gives the vocal performance.
  • History of the World Part II opens with a intro by Mel Brooks, who stated he demanded the studio to show him as he did in 1981. But for comedy's sake, the head of the de-aged Mel Brooks is in a muscular body.

    Music Videos 
  • In the video for the Aerosmith song "Pink" the band member's faces are put on various random people's bodies.
  • Used to rather disturbing effect in the Aphex Twin video "Windowlicker", putting his bearded face on several bikini-clad girls.
  • The video for the Basement Jaxx song "Where's Your Head At?" has the band members faces superimposed onto the heads of monkeys; the plot being about a mad scientist's plan to make a monkey band.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic:
    • Done to eerie effect in the video for "Perform This Way", a parody of Lady Gaga which put Al's head on a woman's body.
    • The video for "CNR" is made with enlarged footage of real faces spliced onto bodies which are a mix of filmed actors and other animation techniques, creating the effect of a world in which everyone has giant heads and mostly fixed expressions.
  • Korn's video for "Word Up" has their faces put onto the bodies of five dogs.
  • The video for the Wet Wet Wet song "Strange" sees the band members having their heads swapped onto various types of bodies, including a pregnant woman, a contortionist and a child, by two Japanese women. At the end of the video, the tables are turned, and the two women end up with their heads swapped onto the bodies of a footballer and a male bodybuilder.
  • Flight of the Conchords' music video for "Ladies of the World" (which differs from the musical sequence in the TV show) has the duo on roller skates throughout - any time either of them does an impressive stunt while lip syncing, it's deliberately obvious that it's just a stunt double with Bret or Jemaine's head pasted on.
  • Weezer's "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To" video takes place in Weezertown, a fictional town entirely populated by lookalikes of the band. Mostly this is just portrayed with band members in various costumes, but at one point there's the comical sight of four children who each have the face of an adult Weezer member.
  • The music video for Kendrick Lamar's "The Heart Part 5" features him using deepfake software to replace his face with those of O. J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, and Nipsey Hussle in that order, corresponding with the lyrics that reflect on each man's experiences.
  • Noah puts the face of "Tak Ada yang Abadi" actress over the one in "Kota Mati" to establish that the latter video is a prequel to the former.
  • The Foo Fighters video "Love Dies Young" had a synchronized swimming quintet receiving the bandmembers' faces.

    Web Original 
  • A really bad one done by a girl who was trying to lie about knowing Dominic Monaghan in real life resulted in the meme phrase "My hed iz pastede on yay".
  • Basically, with enough Photoshop skills (and even those are secondary), the "Face Swap" meme is this.
  • “Deep Fake” videos are videos where powerful desktop computers run a special program. They are given a large amount of source video footage of a person, typically a celebrity, to “train” the programs algorithm and can then superimpose the persons face onto footage of someone else. The internet being what it is, the primary application has been to take video of attractive mainstream actresses and music stars and splice their faces into... "adult" videos.

In-Universe Examples:

  • In Rising Sun, and its film adaptation, a computer programmer notices that the head of an alleged murderer caught on video has a blue halo, suggesting that his face had been digitally inserted. She demonstrates the technology on Sean Connery's and Wesley Snipes' characters, swapping their heads in the computer.
  • Done in-universe in The Running Man. Since the heroes cannot be found, the producers of the evil game contest use stunt doubles for the final fight and digitally put the heroes faces on them.
  • SeaQuest DSV has a variant on this: due to dignitaries being lost, they create the illusion of them touring the ship by digitally grafting their faces onto computer generated bodies that are touring the ship, buying them some time.
  • Sliders has an in-universe example (the show was made before this became commonplace); in a universe where criminals are tried and executed live on television, a corrupt TV host killed someone on camera and then framed another guy by editing his head onto his own body.
  • Done in-universe in Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, Sky Marshal Omar Anoke is lost, and Admiral Enola Phid is able to make it appear that Omar Anoke is still alive and well in the Federation using computers to put Anoke's image over her on a FedNet broadcast.
  • Used as part of The Infiltration in X-Wing: Wraith Squadron. An enemy corvette captain was vain enough to keep his Captain's Log in full 3-D hologram, so when the Wraiths seize his ship, their technical expert is able to program an audio-visual overlay for the team's thespian when he needs to call their "employers." This does lead to some tense moments as the actor worries if the programming will be able to keep up with his extravagant hand gestures, or glitch out and fail at the worst moment.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Meridian", Kira and Odo find out that one of Quark's customers has requested a holobrothel session with a duplicate of Kira. They hack the program so that the customer is instead greeted by Kira's body topped off with Quark's head.
  • This is done in the first episode of Black Mirror, to fool kidnappers into believing that their demands had been met. It doesn't work.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Pastede On Yay


23 vs 39

In this 2002 Gatorade commercial, a 39-year-old Michael Jordan faces his toughest opponent: his 23-year-old self.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

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