De-Ageing in Film


Introduction

In film and television, de-ageing is a visual effects technique used to make an actor look younger, especially for flashback scenes.

This is often accomplished via digitally editing the image or using computer-generated imagery (CGI) overlays or touch-ups.

Some movies will even create de-aged digital actors from scratch or with a mixture of stand-ins and CGI.

Virtual Actors

In some cases, a young version of a character is not played by the original actor but by a virtual actor, even though the actor being represented is usually still alive.

This is usually accomplished with some combination of CGI, a body double, and a voice double or archival audio.

Examples of actors who were replaced by virtual actors to portray their younger selves include:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger as T-800 in Terminator Salvation (2009); Roland Kickinger served as body double.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys (2015) in a scene which depicts the same T-800 from The Terminator; Brett Azar served as body double.
  • Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016); Guy Henry served as both body and voice double.
  • Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016); Ingvild Deila served as body double; archive audio of Carrie Fisher’s voice, taken from outtakes of her hologram scene in A New Hope (1977), was used.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, and Edward Furlong in Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) – although all three appeared in their film as their current ages, virtual actors were used for their characters in flashback scenes.
    • Brett Azar, Maddy Curley and Jude Collie served as the three characters’ body doubles, respectively.
  • Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019); Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd served as body double.

Films Employing De-Ageing

The following table outlines films, in chronological order of release, that employ de-ageing techniques.

YearFilmDescription
2006X-Men: The Last StandActors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, who play the mutants Professor X and Magneto respectively, are de-aged in a flashback scene in which the two work together to recruit a mutant girl as a student.
2008The Curios Case of Benjamin ButtonBased on a short story in which the protagonist ages backwards, actor Brad Pitt, who plays Benjamin Button, is initially shown as elderly and is gradually de-aged to look progressively younger as numerous decades of the character’s life go by.
2009X-Men Origins: WolverineIn this superhero film, Patrick Stewart, who plays mutant Professor X, is de-aged for a brief cameo appearance, as the film takes place earlier in the timeline than the previous films of the series in which Stewart participated.
2010Tron: LegacyA sequel to the 1982 film, set 27 years later, actor Jeff Bridges, who played the protagonist Kevin Flynn in the original film, is de-aged to appear as villainous programme Clu, a copy of Flynn himself, but decades younger. Bruce Boxleitner, who plays the title character of Tron, also appears de-aged in a flashback; his real world character of Alan Bradley, however, appears as the actor’s natural age.
2013Grudge MatchA film about Robert De Niro (Billy “The Kid” McDonnen) and Sylvester Stallone (Henry “Razor” Sharp) as boxing rivals. In the beginning of the film, both actors are de-aged to show them fighting each other in their youth/prime. The rest of the film is set several decades later.
2013The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugThis film is set decades before The Lord of the Rings film trilogy; actor Orlando Bloom reprises his role as the Elf character Legolas and is de-aged in his scenes, to reflect the fact that the film’s Elves do not age.
2015Ant-ManMichael Douglas and Martin Donovan, who play Hank Pym and Mitchell Carson, are both de-aged in a flashback scene set around 25 years earlier.
2016Pee-Wee’s Big HolidayIn this comedy film, actor Paul Reubens reprises his role as Pee-wee Herman 28 years after the previous Pee-wee film. De-ageing was applied to Reubens to make him appear the same age as he was in his last appearance. During filming, Reubens wore powder and tape on his face.
2016FanIn this Indian film, Shah Rukh Khan stars in a double role as film star Aryan Khanna and obsessive fan Gaurav Chandna, who looks like Aryan but is around twenty years younger. Khan was de-aged for the part of Gaurav with a combination of visual effects and prosthetics.
2016Captain America: Civil WarRobert Downey Jr., who plays Tony Stark, is de-aged in a digital recreation of a pivotal moment from the character’s youth.
2017Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 02Kurt Russell, who plays Ego, is de-aged in a flashback scene set on Earth in the 1980’s.
2017Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesIn this swashbuckler, Johnny Depp, who plays the main character Jack Sparrow, is de-aged for a flashback scene.
2017Kingsman: The Golden CircleColin Firth was de-aged for a flashback scene, years before the events of the first film.
2018Ant-Man and the WaspMichael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Laurence Fishburne who play Hank Pym, Janet van Dyne, and Bill Foster, respectively, are de-aged in flashback sequences.
2018AquamanTemuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman are de-aged characters using CGI to portray Aquaman’s parents, Thomas Curry and Atlanna, in opening scenes set during Aquaman’s childhood. In addition, CGI was used to de-age Willem Dafoe for the scene where Nuidis Vulko trains the young Arthur Curry.
2019Captain MarvelSamuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg, who portray Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, are de-aged by 25 years for the entire film as it is set in 1995, whereas the previous films in which they had appeared in these roles had all been set in the present day.
2019Avengers: EndgameMultiple actors were digitally de-aged for different sequences. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner were digitally de-aged for their 2012 appearances that recreate scenes from The Avengers (2012) in which they respectively portray Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, Natasha Romanoff, and Clint Barton. Michael Douglas, John Slattery, and Stan Lee were also digitally de-aged for their 1970’s appearances, in which they respectively portray Hank Pym, Howard Stark, and a car driver. The final cut of the film features 200 de-ageing and ageing shots.
2019It Chapter TwoHorror sequel in which child actors Jaeden Martell, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, and Jackson Robert Scott were digitally de-aged to reprise their roles from It (2017) in flashback scenes, having visibly aged in the two-year interval.
2019Gemini ManIn this science fiction film, actor Will Smith was de-aged to portray a younger clone of his character.
2019The IrishmanIn this epic crime film, actors Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci were digitally de-aged to portray younger versions of Frank Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa, and Russell Bufalino respectively.

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