Before “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” even opened, the Disney adventure tentpole sparked intrigue with a de-aged Harrison Ford, who, in his fifth film playing the whip-cracking archaeologist, is now 80 years old.
The shots of a young Ford look impressive, and it’s thanks to the team of over 100 artists at Industrial Light and Magic, who spent three years on the film’s visual effects, which also included enhancing and developing their existing de-aging technology to create ILM FaceSwap.
Photorealism de-aging was nothing new to the team. After all, technology such as Flux existed and had been used on films such as “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “The Irishman.”
But when the film’s VFX supervisor Andrew Whitehurst and Robert Weaver, VFX supervisor at ILM, first took on the James Mangold-helmed “Dial of Destiny,” they knew this was going to be the biggest project they had undertaken.
“We knew we would have to use all of the tools we already had and develop some new ones,” Whitehurst says. So they developed ILM FaceSwap.
This new set of tools allowed the team to blend a full computer-generated 3D head, combine elements that had been extracted from on-set photography and, as Whitehurst explains, use “machine learning-based reference material from previous ‘Indiana Jones’ films.” Once the artists had that reference material, including a raw clay model in the shape of Ford’s Indy, they went to work making the actor look like a younger version of himself on a shot-by-shot basis.
But the process didn’t end there.
Weaver explains that while the machine learning aspect gave them a 2D replica of what they needed, there was still a full 3D CG asset that needed to be built.
“That involved putting Harrison through the process of recording all the facial performances and all its extremes, and the marrying of various technologies by the artists to blend between one and the other to get the final performance that you’re looking for,” Weaver explains. “The important aspect is that there’s not a single recipe that was cooked up that could be done for all shots.”
Whitehurst worked on the film for over three years, and one of the first things he did was “scan Harrison’s head so we had a current cast.” Once they had that, he and his team began building the 1944 CG head and used other elements from the Lucasfilm archives to help build that out.
While they were doing that, they also storyboarded the film’s prologue sequence to get an idea of the shots they needed. When it came to filming, Whitehurst says, “We made sure we were shooting with extra cameras attached to the main unit camera so we could get as much reference as we possibly could.”
That included capturing lighting references for every single setup so they could replicate it in the CG process.
Weaver says, “On the ILM side there were a few hundred artists involved in the process from start to finish, working on the various shots. They were working on every nuance in every shot. But we were able to achieve that because the reliance on the performance of Harrison was of utmost importance. He was the major driving force of what we needed to do for that opening act and make a younger act of that exact performance.”
Mangold was also key. Whitehurst calls it an “intense collaborative process” that began early, with the director laying out creatively how the sequence would play and “the action beats that would have to be featured within it.” Once the film got to post-production, Whitehurst says Mangold was “so open to hearing ideas from others.”
As to Ford, Weaver says, “We were just in awe as to what he is able to deliver, how fit he is and how much we could rely on him driving every aspect of the performance.”