As Hollywood continues to test the limits of world-building through technological innovation, the big screen continues to push into new terrain and explore the furthest reaches of the imagination. Computer-generated imagery is taking over movies in new and exciting ways. From big scale effects in global blockbusters to smaller, minute details touched up in the editing room, not every CGI effect is immediately noticeable, but every one is a remarkable achievement that wasn’t always present in filmmaking.
With special effects companies now exploring ways to resurrect the stars of the past, a new moral dilemma has begun to surround VFX artists. Although the technology exists to fully scan the facial features and movements of an actor, should the effects be used to recreate an actor’s likeness even after their deaths? In some cases, the uncanny resemblances between the actors and their CGIed counterparts is nearly indistinguishable, but at other times, the poorly constructed visage is merely a distraction that should have been avoided. In order to provide proper context to the question of when it’s appropriate to use an actor’s likeness for entertainment, we’re recapping some of the most eerie instances when the dead were brought back to life for the big screen. So in memory of those who passed away, these are the 15 Celebrities Who Were Resurrected With CGI.
15. Peter Cushing – Rogue One
Appearing on the big screen two decades after his death, prolific British actor Peter Cushing’s likeness was used to recreate the role of Grand Moff Tarkin, the ruthless Imperial officer put in charge of overseeing the construction of the Death Star in the Star Wars saga. In order to resurrect the nefarious villain, the VFX crew on the set of Rogue One used actor Guy Henry (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), who walked and talked like the late performer. Strapped with motion-capture technology, Cushing’s face replaced Henry’s in the editing room.
Although Cushing’s return to the franchise sparked an industry-wide debate about the morality of bringing the deceased back to life, the film crew paid respects to his role. Despite not having any footage of the actor from the waist down, the film managed to create an eerily realistic portrayal of the character and push the boundaries of computer-generated imagery a step further than many viewers cared to to admit.
14. Oliver Reed – Gladiator
After a string of successful turns playing villains on screen, Oliver Reed became a recognizable Britflick icon, appearing in films such as Oliver! and The Devils. At the height of his career, the hard-nosed thespian became famous for his hell-raising persona, struggling with alcoholism and constantly getting into fights off screen. During his final days, while taking a break from filming Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Reed visited an Irish bar, where he died of a heart attack just moments after taking his last drink.
Nominated for a BAFTA for his performance in the film, Reed’s role in Gladiator had to be finished using a digitally constructed face which was mapped onto a body double during editing. In the end, the script had to be rewritten to give Reed’s character a plausible resolution. Only two minutes of film would be completed using the special effects, but the final results were convincing enough to go unnoticed by many viewers.
13. Audrey Hepburn – Galaxy Chocolate Commercial
In 2013, the American global candy manufacturer Mars Incorporated ran a one minute advertisement to promote their Galaxy brand chocolate bars. Set along the Mediterranean coastline in the 1960s, the commercial featured the slender visage of one of cinema’s most iconic actresses, the late Audrey Hepburn. Constructed using two body doubles, one to capture Hepburn’s 20 inch waist and the other to pattern her facial expressions, Mars brought in the help of British visual effects company Framestore to do all the work.
Turning heads with her beauty, the Breakfast at Tiffany’s star’s delicate features were faithfully reproduced thanks to the photorealistic attention to detail given to each shot. Utilizing every film in her catalog, the actress can be seen exiting a bus before getting into a chauffeur’s car to the tune of “Moon River.” Although it’s questionable whether Hepburn would have approved of using her image to promote the sale of candy bars, there’s no doubt her likeness brought a touch of class to the Galaxy brand.
12. Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Joining the Hunger Games franchise as gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee in the second installment Catching Fire, Philip Seymour Hoffman was just a week away from completing his time on screen when he died from a drug overdose. While rumors swirled about how the studio would handle the loss, the reality of the situation gave director Francis Lawrence the opportunity to complete Hoffman’s role without completely recreating a digital copy of the character.
According to Lawrence, only one pivotal scene between Hoffman and the leading character Katniss Everdeen was yet to be filmed. Everything else left to shoot was minor, with Hoffman speaking no lines. To fill the empty space left by the actor’s departure, the major scene was rewritten without him, and previous footage of the character was used to fill in the minor parts. The slight changes are seamless in the final movie, making Hoffman’s last role a memorable one.
11. Nancy Marchand – The Sopranos
In the late ‘90s, The Sopranos set premium network HBO on the map, paving the way for the golden age of television. Juggling a life of crime, the boss of North Jersey’s DiMeo mob family understandably had a love-hate relationship with his mother. Not only was Tony Soprano’s mother Livia abusive to him as a child, but she had even planned to have him murdered on the show at one point after he had her placed in a nursing home.
At the end of the second season of the series, Nancy Marchand, the four time Emmy-winning actress responsible for bringing Tony’s mother to life, passed away due to complications from lung cancer and emphysema. Rather than just writing her character off the show, Marchand’s likeness was recreated for one last scene using CGI footage and audio from previous episodes. The final confrontation between Tony and his mother is strangely disjointed, making their last moment an odd goodbye just before the writers pulled the plug on one of the show’s fiercest characters.
10. John Candy – Wagons East!
Rising to fame as part of the sketch comedy series Second City Television, John Candy quickly began one of the most recognizable funnymen in Hollywood, starring in such films as Stripes, Spaceballs, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. In 1994, while on vacation from the set of his latest film Wagons East!, Candy passed away in his sleep from a heart attack. The western-themed comedy was incomplete at the time of the actor’s death, and director Peter Markle took it from upon himself to see the project through to the end.
Using a stand-in body double, the script for Wagons East! was rewritten to work around Candy’s sudden departure. Although the actor would still receive top billing for his final role, some of his shots would be re-used in later parts of the film, superimposing the actor’s image into another scene. The final film would be dedicated to Candy’s memory, although the movie itself would be panned by critics, making the comedian’s last big role a bittersweet farewell.
9. Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Marlene Dietrich – Dior Commercial
Combining the modern day celebrity with the stylish chic of the actresses of the Golden Age of cinema, Dior created a lavish campaign which saw the resurrection of the seductive Marilyn Monroe, the Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly, and the trend setting Marlene Dietrich. In the ad, Charlize Theron arrives late to a runway show hosted at the Palace of Versailles, exchanging greetings with the three icons as she walks by. Arriving at the catwalk in the famous Hall of Mirrors, she walks the stage showing off her elegant looks.
When selecting which stars would be prominently featured in their campaign, Dior went with three on-screen talents that had shared a history with the brand. Directed by Seven Years in Tibet’s Jean-Jacques Annaud, the collaboration between the digitally reinvented stars and Theron is a beautifully designed cocktail of glamour that puts the long-standing history of the luxury goods company on full display.
8. Roy Scheider – Iron Cross
A renowned everyman who rose to fame in the ‘70s thanks to roles in films like The French Connection and Jaws, Roy Scheider’s swan song turned out to be a not so memorable thriller. While working on the thriller Iron Cross, the actor passed away from complications from multiple myeloma. With a pivotal scene still left to film, director Joshua Newton sought ways to continue on with Scheider’s final project, included resorting to a latex mask which was touched up using computer imagery.
Working in collaboration with Louis Lazzara, the makeup artist who had worked with Scheider since his appearance on the sci-fi series SeaQuest DSV, the actor’s distinct broken nose profile was recreated for the film. With the blessings from the actor’s family, the Nazi revenge thriller was finished, even if the movie itself was middling at best.
7. A Whole Bunch of Historical Figures – Forrest Gump
In 1995, Forrest Gump took the Academy Awards by storm, racking up a total of six golden statues, including the award for best visual effects, beating out The Mask and True Lies for the honor. Although the low key CGI wasn’t the kind of loud visuals offered up by the competition, the Robert Zemeckis-directed epic wowed audiences with its re-telling of important historical events through the lens of a man with an IQ of 75.
Encountering many historical figures throughout his life, Forrest recounts his story of meeting such renowned people as John Lennon, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Ken Ralston, the special effects supervisor who oversaw the project, helped to search through archival footage in order to recreate the environments and superimpose Tom Hanks into each setting. The mouths of each figure were then altered to make it appear as though each person was talking to the actor. The final results were a series of unlikely exchanges that made for a heartwarming restructuring of some of America’s most iconic moments.
6. Bruce Lee – Johnnie Walker Commercial
Forty years after his death, the influential martial artist, actor and philosopher Bruce Lee was digitally reincarnated to sell Johnnie Walker brand scotch. Created by the ad agency BBH in China, the global marketing campaign was rolled out in 2013 and depicted Lee as he walked across a Hong Kong balcony uttering lines based upon one of his quotes from the short lived television series Longstreet. Although Lee abstained from drinking alcohol, he never directly mentions the brand’s name. Still, many viewers were in an uproar over the actor’s face being used to promote a product he would have adamantly objected to using.
In order to engineer Lee’s facial features and movements, BBH hired lookalike Danny Chan to recreate the actor’s looks. Lead 3D artist Sam Driscoll reportedly used over 250 unique facial expressions to re-imagine how the star would appear, examining Lee’s neutral face, his smile, and everything in between. All in all, the commercial took nine months to complete, with Lee’s daughter Shannon providing input and giving her full consent to the project.
5. Brandon Lee – The Crow
One of Hollywood’s most horrific on-set accidents in movie-making history, Brandon Lee’s death was a tragic case of a horror story coming to life. The son of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee, Brandon’s gothic portrayal of Eric Draven in Alex Proyas’ comic book adaptation was cut short when a misfired prop gun cost the actor his life. With the support of Lee’s family, The Crow was completed using stuntman Chad Stahelski as a stand-in for the actor.
With only a few scenes left to shoot, Proyas obscured Stahelski’s face in many of the film’s remaining sequences while also using CGI to superimpose Lee’s face onto the stuntman in cases where showing the character’s features could not be avoided. The final results were so well done that few viewers were able to pick out which scenes had been computerized. In the end, the movie was a commercial success, developing a cult following thanks in part to Lee’s career-best performance.
4. Paul Walker – Furious 7
More than three years removed from Paul Walker’s tragic passing in 2013, and his absence can still be felt in Hollywood. Widely known for his role as Brian O’Conner in the Fast and Furious movies, Walker’s untimely death after a car crash in California left his part in the seventh installment unfinished. Using an astounding 350 CGI shots coupled with a few long distance shots of his brothers Cody and Caleb, who stood in as a body doubles, the film crew was able to complete the character’s arc while paying a touching tribute to the star.
Searching through previous scenes from Walker’s work in the other films of the franchise, the final scene of the movie shows a noticeably CGI version of the actor drag racing Vin Diesel’s character Dominic Toretto as Brian takes one last drive into the sunset. Although director James Wan was concerned with the CGI coming off as disrespectful, fans showed appreciation for how the film’s final act was handled, even if the character’s appearance was slightly off-putting.
3. Fred Astaire – Dirt Devil Commercial
Ten years after Hollywood lost the fleetest feet to ever grace the dance floor, Fred Astaire appeared in a Super Bowl XXXI ad which switched his dance partner from Ginger Rogers to a vacuum cleaner. Granted permission by Astaire’s daughter, his likeness was licensed to Dirt Devil. At first, the commercials proved to be wildly successful, getting praise from viewers who were wowed to see the deceased hoofer twirling around with a wireless household appliance, but in time, the spots became more troublesome than they were worth.
In 1999, thanks to protests from Astaire’s widow Robyn, who claimed her late husband’s image had been used in egregious examples of infringement, the Astaire Bill was passed, denying companies the right to use a deceased person’s image for exploitation. The bill was a game-changer which defended the families and friends of the deceased and maintained that all dead celebrities’ images could only be used if proper permission was given by all rights holders.
2. Laurence Olivier – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Largely remembered as the first CGI backlot film to feature an entirely computer-generated setting, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was a passion project for director Kerry Conran which took years to develop. When it came time for Conran to actually make his dieselpunk sci-fi fantasy, only one name came to mind for the movie’s villain Dr. Totenkopf. The renowned British actor Laurence Olivier appears in hologram form at the very end of the picture in a posthumous performance more than a decade after his death.
In order to make Olivier’s appearance as authentic as possible, not only did the crew have to add CGI effects, but they had to search through archival footage of the star to find the right match for the scene. In the end, the crew brought in the help of an additional actor to cover some of the villain’s dialogue to complete the overall effect. Although the movie proved to be a box office bomb, it’s kept a faithful following as a cult film among certain circles.
1. Marlon Brando – Superman Returns
Working for a week on the set of Superman: The Movie in 1978, Marlon Brando’s turn as Superman’s father Jor-El made enough of an impression on the writers of Superman Returns to justify his resurrection in the 2006 pseudo-sequel. According to co-writer Dan Harris, the idea of bringing the actor back began with a way to convey Superman searching for his place in the world. In the scene, Brando appears inside the Fortress of Solitude as the Man of Steel’s conscience, speaking to him two years after the actor’s death.
In order to achieve the look, the VFX company Rhythm and Hues used previously shot footage from the 1978 Superman film, matching Brando’s eyes with his speech. Once the correct images were selected, a model was created of the actor from photographic reference. Finally, textures were added to Brando’s mouth to make his talk appear natural. The final scene was enough to give the late actor one final acting credit to build on to his already lasting legacy.
Where do you land in the CGI resurrection argument? Let us know in the comments.
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