The men bringing James Dean back to life for a forthcoming film are aiming not just to give his digital likeness a role, but a whole new career.
It was announced in November that a virtual likeness of Dean would be cast in the Vietnam War movie, Finding Jack.
Now, there is a possibility of future parts for the virtual Dean as his family plans to cash in further on the digital version of the actor.
Digital de-aging and duplication of real actors has tipped from cinematic trick into common practice. And it’s giving new life to old arguments about the immortality and dignity of the dead.
“Our intentions are to create the virtual being of James Dean. That’s not only for one movie, but going to be used for many movies and also gaming and virtual reality,” said Travis Cloyd, CEO of Worldwide XR, who is leading the design on the Dean project.
Cloyd also said that the focus is “building the ultimate James Dean so he can live across any medium.”
Worldwide XR legally has every right to create the virtual being of Dean because the Dean estate and his surviving relatives are in full agreement with the company.
“Our clients want to protect these valuable intellectual property rights and the memories that they have of their loved one,” said Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, the legal and licensing company that has long owned the title to Dean’s likeness.
“We have to trust them. … They want to see that their loved one’s image and memory continues to live on.” Roesler added.
Dean died at the age of 24 in 1955. He had made just three films: East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant.
Cloyd and Roesler have not obtained the rights from Warner Bros. to use footage from those three films but they have a large trove of photos and Dean’s dozens of TV roles.
“There are thousands of images that we do have to work with,” Cloyd said. “What we typically do is we take all those images and videos and we run them through machine learning to create that asset.”
There will be a stand-in actor using motion-capture technology, as is commonly done with CGI characters, along with the overdubbed voice of another actor to create the virtual Dean.
Dean will be playing a supporting role in Finding Jack, which is now in pre-production. The limited screen time is, at this point, as far as those recreating him want to go. But they hope the digital avatar can eventually carry a movie, possibly even playing Dean himself at different ages.
“At some point, there’s going to be the James Dean biopic,” Cloyd said. “I think the technology is not necessarily there today to take the risk.”
The announcement of the role last year was met with backlash.
Actor Chris Evans said: “I’m sure he’d be thrilled. This is awful. Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso. Or write a couple new John Lennon tunes. The complete lack of understanding here is shameful.”
Elijah Wood, the former Lord of the Rings star, simply wrote: “Nope. This shouldn’t be a thing.”
Here’s what some other fans of Dean had to say on the controversial matter:
The revival of the dead has been happening for much of Hollywood’s existence.
In August 2018, Paul Walker’s brothers revealed that they’re open to playing their late brother’s character in the Fast and Furious franchise.
Producers asked Caleb and Cody Walker to fill in for their brother and help complete Furious 7 after he died in a fiery off-set car crash in November 2013.
His face was digitally superimposed onto his brothers’ performances for scenes that Walker had not shot yet and in a modified ending in which his character Brian O’Conner drives off into the sunset.
“I just hope we get to — I don’t know — have a little cameo and bring Paul back to save the day and I get to help create that again,” Caleb Walker said in an interview.
He continued: “That’s my dream and I hope we get to do that in one of the future movies.”
“I think there could potentially be a way to do it. But it would take a lot of thought and it’d have to be tasteful. It would have to be tasteful,” Cody Walker, 30, said. “He was the real deal, the real car guy. And in his absence, I — you know — I think it’s lost its way in a big way.”
Walker was 40 years old when the Porsche Carrera GT he was riding in spun out of control, struck three trees and burst into flames on a street in Santa Clarita, Calif. Walker left behind a daughter, Meadow.
—With files from The Associated Press and Adam Wallis