The digital revolution rages on, and actors are the latest soldiers on the frontlines.
Since “Jurassic Park” digitally created characters have become commonplace on the big screen, sometimes jaw-dropping in their reality – and sometimes not. “Tron: Legacy” just pushed the envelope that much further with – SPOILER ALERT – its high-tech layering of 30-year-old imagery of Jeff Bridges atop a fresh performance from the Oscar-winner to create an entirely distinct character.
The breakthrough suggests a myriad of possibilities for future use on film: imagine Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones in a story set prior to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or Humphrey Bogart resurrected for a “Casablanca” sequel by digitally lacquering his image over another actor, for example. The actors and director of “Tron: Legacy” shared their thoughts on what the innovation really means for performers as they consider what lies ahead now that their avatars at any age can reside indefinitely on a hard drive.
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“It’s opening a whole new deal, man – they can combine actors!” says Jeff Bridges. “A little Bob Duvall and Lou Costello, and then they push a button and fuse those guys, and they have some other actor drive that image. It’s really going back to becoming a writers’ medium, because now anything’s possible. There’s no sets, no costumes, it’s all done in post. Even the camera angles, where the camera is. It’s crazy!”
“I don't think that I can escape that images of myself will be kept on a hard drive now,” says Olivia Wilde. “There is permanence to everything that you do now, whether you like it or not, so it can be utilized in the future – hopefully for a good reason. But that is an interesting concept and we're still cresting that wave. There're only a few actors in this business who have gone through the process that Jeff went through. I think that only he and Brad Pitt can really discuss the challenges of working with a head rig for face replacement.”
“It's something that's just completely inevitable,” declares Garrett Hedlund. “They've been wanting to do it for years, to bring back actors holographicaly and things like that and to give them their own unique gestures. It's been tricky but they're getting closer and closer. Now we're scanned into the computer – me and Olivia and Jeff all had to do this full body scan and get scanned into the computer to help with the manufacturing of the suits, to get them precisely to every curve of your body. So now we're in there. There's no telling how technology will advance to expedite a production.”
Not every actor completely embraces the inevitable results of the advancements. “There’s obviously positive and negative about it, says Michael Sheen. “There are a lot of actors who are kind of freaked out by that idea, and there are a lot of people who have their hands on cash registers who are very excited about that idea, the idea of getting Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and George Clooney in the same movie. It becomes a possibility, and I’m sure that would do very well. But as an actor, it’s another tool, isn’t it? The idea that there’s makeup, there’s prosthetics and now there’s that as well.
“For me as an actor, part of what I enjoy about acting, what I really love, is the idea of physically transforming myself,” adds Sheen. “So for someone to come along and say, ‘No, we can do all that for you…’ ‘No, that’s what I enjoy doing! I don’t want you to do that work for me. I want to do that work.’ But on the other hand, I’m also incredibly excited that it is another incredibly sophisticated tool to use in order to create a performance. That’s ultimately what we’ve got to be about. If it just becomes technology for it’s own sake, then we’re into a bit of a disturbing, dark area.”
“It’s the hardest thing you can do right now in terms of visual effects, so I don’t think people are going to be doing it for the sake of doing it” says “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosiniski, “The reason we did it on this movie is because it was driven by a story that required it. We knew we could tell the story of a man with two sons: a digital son and a biological son – one of those sons being a perfect digital copy of the man himself at 35. That’s a story that couldn’t be told until now.”
“It’s exceptionally difficult because it is a human being, and a human being that people know and know what he looked like at that age,” says Kosinski. “And it’s an actor that has so much personality and charisma that it couldn’t simply look like him. It had to really feel like Jeff, so it was important to me that Jeff had to drive the performance of that character in the scenes. This wasn’t something he could do three months later in a motion-capture facility, so we had to use all this technology that allowed us to capture the performance on set, in scene. I’m really happy with how Clu performs in the context of this movie, all the way through, and it really culminates at the end of the film when you get to see Jeff in this astounding performance play both sides of a scene simultaneously. It was a really incredible thing to witness Jeff dive in and do that.”
“The technology—or what was required of me in just acting those two parts – really helped,” adds Bridges. “You’re in a leotard with all these dots on your face and this funny helmet with cameras. It’s nice to imagine in your head what it must be like to live in a grid or something, and just being in that strange circumstance that helps that.”
And at the least, says Hedlund, the notion can free actors from anxiety if they flub a scene. “Jeff and I would always joke, saying, 'Well, if this stunt goes wrong, at least they've got us in the computer.'”