Robert Zemeckis Has Found His Latest Tech Tool With AI De-Aging — And That’s Good
Early adopter first, filmmaker second.
Robert Zemeckis is one of the most baffling filmmakers still working today. Sure, he’s the guy who made Forrest Gump and Back to the Future, but his modern filmography is all over the place. The turning point seems to be 2004’s The Polar Express, which shifted his focus from genre-bending adventures and dramatic sagas like Cast Away to a shiny new technology called motion capture.
It was an understandable fascination, but the movie aged like milk and now rests firmly in the Uncanny Valley. Still, that didn’t stop this award-winning filmmaker from throwing himself into technology. News about his latest project proves this is not a fall from grace, but a career shift.
Zemeckis’ latest film, Here, starring his longtime collaborator Tom Hanks and Robin Wright, will work with tech company Metaphysic to use their Metaphysic Live tool to de-age the actors to show them over a number of years.
Per a press release, Metaphysic, best known for their “deeptomcruise” deepfake TikTok account, will lend their AI de-aging technology to the film, an adaptation of Richard McGuire’s graphic novel.
But what’s truly interesting about the Metaphysic Live tool is that it’s used to de-age and deepfake live — an incredibly cutting-edge feature, but one’s that’s basically useless in a film process that usually undergoes a lot of post-production regardless.
So why use live-rendering tech? It’s par for the course for Zemeckis. His films aren’t as commercially successful as they once were — his Disney Pinocchio remake was eschewed in favor of Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion take, and his big Anne-Hathaway led family flick The Witches is now permanently erased from its home platform, HBO Max.
But he’s made a name for himself in his championing of motion capture, turning Tom Hanks into countless characters for The Polar Express, bringing A Christmas Carol to life with Jim Carrey, and turning an action-figure-based documentary into a partially-plastic action movie with Welcome to Marwen.
Zemeckis’ early adoption of the technology allowed for more and more filmmakers to be open to the technology. In fact, you could feasibly draw a straight line from The Polar Express to Avatar through its use of motion capture.
Perhaps AI and deepfake effects are his next fascination. Amid ethics debates around AI, deaging seems like the most harmless use, and the live-rendering effects of Metaphysic Live could streamline visual effects in future films or make the technology more accessible.
Maybe its time to stop looking at Zemeckis’ future works as films for their own sake and start looking at them as experiments in technology, a way to volunteer himself as a sacrificial lamb to try these new techniques while they’re still in their infancies. Considering his past career, he’s one of the few directors who can afford to make such a shift. Why not support him? Who knows, maybe this AI de-aging will become the norm.