We’ve seen Trek deepfake videos in the past, which use artificial intelligence to put an actor’s face on a different actor’s body. Many of them, actually, including this one:
These are quite good, and while they are a little rough around the edges, they demonstrate that the technology is getting better. The newest Trek deepfake was unveiled a few days ago, and features the face of Leonard Nimoy composed over Zachary Quinto in Star Trek (2009), in a scene with … Leonard Nimoy as Spock. Watch:
As you can see, the scene is very well done, except if you see young Spock from the side. That must be a limitation of the deepfake tech, where it is not yet able to completely paste over Quinto’s face.
The other real issue affecting the believability of this deepfake is the voice of Quinto, as compared to the voice of Leonard Nimoy. The latter’s voice was so iconic and memorable, that even with Nimoy’s face on Quinto’s body, the viewer knows this is just a test and not ready for prime time.
That being said, the technology has advanced in such a way, in such a short period of time, that we could conceivably see actors who have been long gone — or long old — come back to play new roles on television or in the movies.
This sort of thing was attempted, to some degree of success, in Star Wars: Rouge One, where the team from Industrial Light ad Magic used a life cast of actor Peter Cushing to create a 3D model of his face. They used that to animate the Cushing face on the actor who played Tarkin in the film. Cushing died in 1994, and Rogue One was released in 2016.
Here’s a how-to video from the effects team who pulled this off:
Even that looks fake. But it worked because of the voice. Guy Henery who gave voice to Tarkin in the Clone Wars animated series, brought his amazing voice back for Rogue One, and audiences liked it well enough. Though the animation was clearly that, the effort was astounding and represented another leap forward in film technology.
KIRK ON STRANGE NEW WORLDS
Now with the announcement of the new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, we’ll see a young Spock serving under Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) aboard the Enterprise.
Let’s say the series runs on CBS All Access (or whatever we’ll call the service in a year or so) for five years, and for the finale episode, Pike turns over command to a young captain, fresh from serving aboard the U.S.S. Farragut — James T. Kirk.
Who could bring this brash and swashbuckling, yet iconic character to life? Chris Pine? Nope. He’s made it pretty clear that he wants “Marvel” money to play Kirk anytime soon.
There’s only one man who has the chops to play Kirk. And that is Kirk himself — William Shatner. While the boo-birds will point out that Shatner said recently that Kirk’s story is all played out, which is true (he did say that). But just a year before, Shatner told audiences in Portland that he’d love to come back as our beloved captain. Apparently, it depends on when you ask Shatner if he’s willing to sit in the chair or not.
An episode of Strange New Worlds with Kirk could be one for the ages, and the deepfake technology is how it could happen. A younger actor could walk through the motions in the scenes, while Shatner provides the voice of Kirk, and the deepfake tech ads his 1960s face to the part.
Watch this deepfake, using footage from Star Trek Continues, which is another attempt to do just that:
Yes, yes, yes… it’s not 100%. And Vic Mignogna’s voice gives it away from the very start. This was created over two years ago, probably on a fan’s (zero) budget. Just think what CBS could do with the proper funding.
Who knows what will happen in the end. Simple contract negotiations could destroy everything, and Shatner might want Marvel money too. The fact remains that thanks to fans who know what they are doing, we can see examples of how this could work the near future, which could mean the production of Star Trek shows and films may enter strange new worlds of their own.
UPDATE: According to an interview in the Metro News, Shatner said that he’d be up for returning to the franchise, but not for just a little cameo. Guess we were right… it does depend which day you ask him.