At the beginning of October there were numerous reports that veteran actor Bruce Willis had sold the rights to his face to deepfake company, Deepcake. Though these rumors were debunked by an official spokesperson for the actor the conversations around the technology have continued. How could it be used positively for the industry in the future and could it negatively impact actors?
Willis announced his retirement from acting in March after being diagnosed with a speech disorder known as aphasia. There was a report that he had sold the rights to his face, that major news outlets including the Daily Mail and The Telegraph ran with. Though untrue, it did get people’s imaginations running about the possibilities through using the technology.
Deepfakes use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology to render realistic videos. The tech has so far been used to mimic celebrities and other well-known individuals with surprising accuracy. Willis had worked with Deepcake before on a deepfake project, an advert for Russian telecoms company Megafon.
The advert was shot and aired in 2021 and a Russian actor had Willis’ face superimposed over his using deepfake technology.
The production, through Deepcake, had to collect numerous materials from Willis and his consent to use his likeness in the advert.
In a statement from Deepcake, they shed more light on the controversy surrounding the report.
“The wording about rights is wrong… Bruce couldn’t sell anyone any rights, they are his by default,”
The quote implies that Willis couldn’t sell his rights even if he wanted to, however, his participation in the Russian advert implies otherwise. Perhaps not long-term, but it could certainly be done on a project-by-project basis.
If just materials were needed for Willis to be replicated so accurately, anyone could be deepfaked with the requisite archives. For those in the public eye, most of those materials are in the public domain already.
Some organizations have come out and said the technology would affect actors’ livelihoods and even that they could be contracted out of their voices and/or faces. Regardless the business is growing.
Deepfake technology has been used for recently retired Darth Vader actor James Earl Jones. His voice as Vader can continue and was recently used on Disney’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series through a company called Respeecher. The voice was even made to sound younger and more relevant to the timeline the show is set-in.
The growth of the tech does bring the points of rights into question. Could estates that represent deceased celebrities position themselves for their individual to carry on their legacy using deepfake technology? Is it ethical to do so? Music is still released from musicians that have passed away. Michael Jackson, Pop Smoke, and Tupac are notable examples. Though they may have recorded the vocals did that mean they wanted the tracks released? Starting a new project using their likeness is potentially even more controversial, as it’s something they can’t comment on in live terms.
Willis’ situation is much more unique as he can decide which projects to lend his name and likeness to, with this could we see another layer to performance with actors playing actors portraying characters in the future?
The continued development of the technology will certainly be something to look out for as another perspective is that characters could live on irrespective of what happens to an actor. Scheduling conflicts could become a thing of the past. The passing of Chadwick Boseman is a prime example. Clearly, no one wanted to replace Boseman but it was pivotal that the Black Panther character continued, with Disney deciding to continue a storyline post the death of T’Challa.
Speaking with Empire, Marvel head Kevin Feige said about the matter, “It just felt like it was much too soon to recast,”
“Stan Lee always said that Marvel represents the world outside your window. And we had talked about how, as extraordinary and fantastical as our characters and stories are, there’s a relatable and human element to everything we do. The world is still processing the loss of Chad. And Ryan poured that into the story.”
There’s a lot to unpack in regards to ethics and processes but there is certainly the potential for mass disruption using deepfake technology.