[Mild spoilers for the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2]
The de-aged Kurt Russell from the start of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 only used CGI sparingly and was mostly practical. A particular trend in recent Marvel movies has been CGI’ing classic actors younger, with the studio almost going out of its way to include augmented body alteration. We’ve previously seen Michael Douglas and Robert Downey, Jr. return to their 1980s selves in Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War respectively, and with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 it’s now Kurt Russell’s turn.
James Gunn’s follow up to his 2014 surprise hit opens with Russell’s Ego in human form romancing Star-Lord’s mother in 1980s Missouri, where the actor looking just like his young, Carpenter-era self. It’s an impressive effect and would be easy to presume it – like Douglas and RDJ – is mostly computer-generated. However, that isn’t the case.
At Vol. 2‘s junket press conference, Russell was asked about what it was like seeing his younger self on screen and revealed the basis of the effect was practical with CGI only used to blur the lines:
“Before we went in there we assumed that it was gonna be all CGI. And [makeup artist Dennis Liddiard] said to James [Gunn] and the cinematographer [Henry Braham], ‘Hey, I can young this guy down. I got some tricks in my bag. Would that be helpful?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, as much as you can. That would be great.’ I was speaking to the gal last night who does the CGI. She said, ‘What did you think of what we did?’ And I said, ‘I thought it was great. But I understand you didn’t do a whole lot?’ She said, ‘No we didn’t. We touched it up here and there.’ He did a fantastic job. He does have a lot of tricks, not just makeup. Cosmetics I should say.”
The full extent of the practical/computer divide probably won’t be made clear until we see actual footage of a young Russell on set, but the way the actor tells it makes it sound like the majority of the legwork in taking him back to the time of Snake Plissken and Jack Burton was in the makeup. Both previous examples of de-aging (as well as other body alteration like a pre-serum Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger) have used physical reference points – Civil War even used Downey, Jr.’s appearance in Weird Science as a basis – but this is a step further.
Given how indeed impressive it is seeing a 1980s Kurt Russell at the start of Vol. 2, the trick goes a long way to show the merits of old-fashioned in-camera effects in favor of CGI – it’s sure to cause more double-takes than any previous example – and ups the game for whichever star Marvel has eyed to be subject to the practice next (Marisa Tomei in Spider-Man: Homecoming? Jeff Goldblum in Thor: Ragnarok?).
The topic of CGI-altered performances has been a controversial one recently. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in particular picked up criticism for digitally resurrecting Peter Cushing, although there the debate was more over the ethics of bringing back dead stars than anything specifically creative; with these Marvel effects, where the actor is already involved, there’s less to find umbrage with. Well, as long as they avoid the uncanny valley.
Source: Kurt Russell