The Elixir of Life

by Graham Edwards

Audrey Hepburn in Galaxy Commercial by Framestore

Image copyright Sean Hepburn Ferrer, AMV BBDO, Luca Dotti

Framestore have brought Audrey Hepburn back to life.

The iconic film star was resurrected in “Chauffeur”, a TV commercial for Galaxy chocolate, directed by Rattling Stick’s Daniel Kleinman, that aired in the UK earlier this year. To perform the miracle, Framestore created a 3D model of Hepburn and used it to replace the head of an lookalike actress. The CG Hepburn was built using film and photographic reference, and had in excess of 70 separate muscle movements. The work is stunning at every level – modelling, tracking, rendering, comping – and undoubtedly represents what Framestore VFX Supervisor William Bartlett describes as “the edge of what’s possible”.

As we all know, what’s barely possible today will become commonplace tomorrow. The convincing digital recreation of a human being on screen may still be difficult, but visual effects artists are steadily building a bridge across the “uncanny valley” – that hard-to-define region in which an animated character looks almost perfect, yet still creepily unreal.

The bridge is nearly complete.

With that in mind, here’s a short list of films that might be showing at your local movie theatre just a few years from now …

“Indiana Jones and the Resurrection Engine”

The new Indiana Jones adventure sees everyone’s favourite archaeologist caught up in a race against time to stop the Nazis getting their hands on a mysterious ancient artefact (again). The story takes place in 1937, just a year after the events of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, and – wonder of wonders – Indy looks just as young and fit as he ever did. How has this been achieved? Did they find a younger actor to play the iconic role? No. Did one sip from the Holy Grail really give Harrison Ford that much of a boost? No again. The septuagenarian Ford acted out his scenes on a motion capture stage, after which his performance was used to drive a digital model of his own younger self. Thanks to a patented Arthritic-2-Athletic physical enhancement algorithm, Ford was even able to perform all his own stunts!

“Forrest Gump” – starring James Stewart

People have long been comparing Tom Hanks to Jimmy Stewart. Now’s your chance to see the two actors go head to head. Innovative digital techniques have enabled visual effects wizards to replace Hanks frame by frame with an accurate digital double of Stewart. Every aspect of Hanks’s performance has been mapped to a library of facial expressions collated from Stewart’s entire film catalogue. The Blu-ray edition will include a special “Tom/Jim” menu control, enabling you to switch instantly from one actor to the other. Casting a role is now like a box of chocolates: just take your pick!

“It’s a Wonderful Life” – starring Tom Hanks

(see above)

“Washington”

After her Academy Award-winning turn as the UK’s first female Prime Minister in “The Iron Lady”, Meryl Streep is taking on another monumental historical role. In Steven Spielberg’s latest biopic, she’ll be playing America’s first President, George Washington. Streep’s performance will be motion-captured and mapped on to a 100% accurate CG model of Washington recreated using paintings and engravings from the period. Forget prosthetics. Forget gender. Simply applaud the performance of a great actress translated on to the authentic features of a man who died over 200 years ago! (Also featuring John Goodman as Martha Washington.)

Far-fetched? A couple of years ago I might have said “yes”. Not now. The only question remaining is the one posed by Jeff Goldblum’s character Ian Malcolm in “Jurassic Park”. When challenging John Hammond’s successful resurrection of extinct dinosaur species, Malcolm says:

“You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, that you didn’t stop to think if you should.”

Thankfully, digital doubles of deceased historical figures are unlikely to tear down the fences and go on the rampage. And, unlike a certain carnivorous plant, Framestore’s very own “Audrey 2” probably won’t develop a taste for human flesh.

All the same … should we?

Note: Due to international copyright restrictions, video in the above links may play only in certain territories.

One thought on “The Elixir of Life

  1. Framestore have brought Audrey Hepburn back to life??? Well not to most of us VFX folks. It really is no better than a cartoon image. The instant the character blinks is the fatal mistake of bad timing – all to fast – all too cartoon like. I have discussed this commercial with many VFX ( and non-VFX people), the answer remains the same – CGI is no where near getting a ‘photo-realistic’ impression of a human. Incorrect lighting in several shots, incorrect movement ( blinks). Simply a long long way to go. The face structure is not anatomically correct. Just goes to prove that todays VFX (aka CGI) generation are not quite up to what the majority of viewers expect to see and appreciate for what is ‘real’ – a lot of work still to go.
    Dennis N

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