(Pocket-lint) - Digital effects in movies have improved drastically in the last few years, especially in the field of actor replacement or de-aging. And, the tech is becoming more advanced still, prompting further use in years to come.

Leading visual effects maven, Paul Franklin, told the Pocket-lint podcast that he believes the use of digital humans in movies is only likely to continue to grow. Filmmakers will look to explore the new opportunities afforded to them by the industry, he explained: "I think there will be a series of breakthroughs over the next few of years, particularly in creating digital humans."

Franklin, who co-founded one of the world’s biggest digital effects studios, Dneg, is a two times Oscar-winner. He has worked on global blockbusters, such as Blade Runner 2049, the Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar and Inception. He is very experienced in the field, therefore, and well placed to see the technology evolve into something any director can use. But, should they?

"Ultimately, the question is not about what we are going to be able to do in the future - the answer is pretty much anything you want - but is why are you doing it, why does it earn a place in your film?"


His comments come off the back of big Hollywood films already embracing digital actor technology.

Cinema-goers can currently see Will Smith starring alongside a younger version of himself in Gemini Man. While Netflix viewers are set to be treated to a 70-year-old Robert De Niro also playing a 27-year De Niro in The Irishman.

"Take Martin Scorsese's new film The Irishman, for example. There is a lot of talk about the way he has managed to use digital effects to make younger versions of the principle cast," said Franklin.

"Robert De Niro is in his seventies, but there is a version of De Niro in the film where he plays 27-year-old. It's 70-year-old De Niro acting as a 27-year-old with a reasonably plausible face.

"That is created with digital effects. Now, it's not the 27-year old Robert De Niro, because he has physically changed in a number of ways in time, but it's a younger version of the man he is today.

"Why do that? It's important to Scorsese, and I trust him as a filmmaker. That he wanted the same actor playing the same character through different ages."

It's a theme explored by the director before, although the technology was not available at the time: "If you go back to Scorsese's film Goodfellas, the Ray Liotta character when you see him as a teenager is played by a different actor, because Ray couldn't play a teenager."

Of course, computer aided visual effects are not just about creating younger versions of today's actors, or even completely digital actors as Franklin did with Sean Young in Blade Runner 2049. They aren't even exclusive to movies these days.


"Bread and butter visual effects, like creating landscapes, buildings, and crashing cars, burning forests and giant monsters, become not easier but more widely accessible to a wider range of film makers because the price point comes down," he elaborated.

"You'll be able to do more for the same money. You can see that in the way that television has changed in the last few years.

"We recently won an Emmy for our work on Chernobyl. Those are Hollywood standard effects on a television budget. That's already happening... and it will continue to happen."

Not all technological breakthroughs are great for the visual effects business though. The move to embrace 4K and 8K in the home and cinemas isn't without barriers or headaches for those in the industry: "The resolution thing is actually a very serious issue in visual effects, because every time the resolution goes up - like when we went from 2K to 4K - that is a quadrupling of the amount of information that is in the picture," Franklin explained.

"It means you have to build a much bigger machine to do the visual effects, because these things don't just scale up in a linear fashion. You can't just keep adding computers to the render farm. You suddenly find you've exceeded the electricity budget for your building, and then you need to move to a new building near a sub-station to power it. Or more cooling and God knows what else. So that's an issue we have to deal with."

You can listen the full interview on the latest Pocket-lint podcast out this Friday.

Paul Franklin is speaking live at The Architects Underground at RIBA on Wednesday 16 October. You can find out more information at www.architecture.com

Writing by Stuart Miles.
Sections TV