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A virtual human or digital clone is the creation or re-creation of a human being in image and voice using computer-generated imagery and sound, that is often indistinguishable from the real actor. This idea was first portrayed in the 1981 film Looker, wherein models had their bodies scanned digitally to create 3D computer generated images of the models, and then animating said images for use in TV commercials. Two 1992 books used this concept: "Fools" by Pat Cadigan, and Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner.

In general, virtual humans employed in movies are known as synthespians, virtual actors, vactors, cyberstars, or "silicentric" actors. There are several legal ramifications for the digital cloning of human actors, relating to copyright and personality rights. People who have already been digitally cloned as simulations include Bill Clinton, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire, Ed Sullivan, Elvis Presley, Bruce Lee, Audrey Hepburn, Anna Marie Goddard, and George Burns. Ironically, data sets of Arnold Schwarzenegger for the creation of a virtual Arnold (head, at least) have already been made.[1][2]

The name "Schwarzeneggerization" comes from the 1992 book Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner. In one scene, on pages 50–51, a character asks the shop assistant at a video store to have Arnold Schwarzenegger digitally substituted for existing actors into various works, including (amongst others) Rain Man (to replace both Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman), My Fair Lady (to replace Rex Harrison), Amadeus (to replace F. Murray Abraham), The Diary of Anne Frank (as Anne Frank), Gandhi (to replace Ben Kingsley), and It's a Wonderful Life (to replace James Stewart). Schwarzeneggerization is the name that Leyner gives to this process. Only 10 years later, Schwarzeneggerization was close to being reality.[1]

By 2002, Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, Kate Mulgrew, Michelle Pfeiffer, Denzel Washington, Gillian Anderson, and David Duchovny had all had their heads laser scanned to create digital computer models thereof.[1]


Early historyEdit

Early computer-generated animated faces include the 1985 film Tony de Peltrie and the music video for Mick Jagger's song "Hard Woman" (from She's the Boss). The first actual human beings to be digitally duplicated were Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart in a March 1987 film "Rendez-vous in Montreal" created by Nadia Magnenat Thalmann and Daniel Thalmann for the 100th anniversary of the Engineering Institute of Canada. The film was created by six people over a year, and had Monroe and Bogart meeting in a café in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The characters were rendered in three dimensions, and were capable of speaking, showing emotion, and shaking hands.[3]

In 1987, the Kleiser-Walczak Construction Company (now Synthespian Studios), founded by Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak coined the term "synthespian" and began its Synthespian ("synthetic thespian") Project, with the aim of creating "life-like figures based on the digital animation of clay models".[2][4]

In 1988, Tin Toy was the first entirely computer-generated movie to win an Academy Award (Best Animated Short Film). In the same year, Mike the Talking Head, an animated head whose facial expression and head posture were controlled in real time by a puppeteer using a custom-built controller, was developed by Silicon Graphics, and performed live at SIGGRAPH. In 1989, The Abyss, directed by James Cameron included a computer-generated face placed onto a watery pseudopod.[3][5]

In 1991, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, also directed by Cameron, confident in the abilities of computer-generated effects from his experience with The Abyss, included a mixture of synthetic actors with live animation, including computer models of Robert Patrick's face. The Abyss contained just one scene with photo-realistic computer graphics. Terminator 2: Judgment Day contained over forty shots throughout the film.[3][5][6]

In 1997, Industrial Light & Magic worked on creating a virtual actor that was a composite of the bodily parts of several real actors.[2]

By the 21st century, virtual actors had become a reality. The face of Brandon Lee, who had died partway through the shooting of The Crow in 1994, had been digitally superimposed over the top of a body-double in order to complete those parts of the movie that had yet to be filmed. By 2001, three-dimensional computer-generated realistic humans had been used in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and by 2004, a synthetic Laurence Olivier co-starred in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.[7][8]

The Star Wars Anthology film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) whose plot ends minutes before that of Star Wars (1977), digitally recreated the appearances of Peter Cushing in the role Grand Moff Tarkin (played and voiced by Guy Henry), and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia (played by Ingvild Deila; Fisher's only line was added using archival voice footage of Carrie Fisher saying the word "Hope"). The virtual versions replicated the characters' appearances as seen in the aforementioned Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Cushing had died in 1994, while Fisher died a few days after the film's release. Industrial Light & Magic created the special effects, and noted that the technique would not be used often, noting also that the young Han Solo film would not use Harrison Ford's likeness.[9]

Legal issuesEdit

Critics such as Stuart Klawans in the New York Times expressed worry about the loss of "the very thing that art was supposedly preserving: our point of contact with the irreplaceable, finite person". And even more problematic are the issues of copyright and personality rights. Actors have little legal control over a digital clone of themselves. In the United States, for instance, they must resort to database protection laws in order to exercise what control they have (The proposed Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act would strengthen such laws). An actor does not own the copyright on his or her digital clones, unless they were created by her or him. Robert Patrick, for example, would not have any legal control over the liquid metal digital clone of himself that was created for Terminator 2: Judgment Day.[7][10]

The use of digital clones in movie industry, to replicate the acting performances of a cloned person, represents a controversial aspect of these implications, as it may cause real actors to land in fewer roles, and put them in disadvantage at contract negotiations, since a clone could always be used by the producers at potentially lower costs. It is also a career difficulty, since a clone could be used in roles that a real actor would never accept for various reasons. Bad identifications of an actor's image with a certain type of roles could harm his career, and real actors, conscious of this, pick and choose what roles they play (Bela Lugosi and Margaret Hamilton became typecast with their roles as Count Dracula and the Wicked Witch of the West, whereas Anthony Hopkins and Dustin Hoffman have played a diverse range of parts). A digital clone could be used to play the parts of (for examples) an axe murderer or a prostitute, which would affect the actor's public image, and in turn affect what future casting opportunities were given to that actor. Both Tom Waits and Bette Midler have won actions for damages against people who employed their images in advertisements that they had refused to take part in themselves.[11]

In the USA, the use of a digital clone in advertisements is required to be accurate and truthful (section 43(a) of the Lanham Act and which makes deliberate confusion unlawful). The use of a celebrity's image would be an implied endorsement. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York held that an advertisement employing a Woody Allen impersonator would violate the Act unless it contained a disclaimer stating that Allen did not endorse the product.[11]

Other concerns include posthumous use of digital clones. Barbara Creed states that "Arnold's famous threat, 'I'll be back', may take on a new meaning". Even before Brandon Lee was digitally reanimated, the California Senate drew up the Astaire Bill, in response to lobbying from Fred Astaire's widow and the Screen Actors Guild, who were seeking to restrict the use of digital clones of Astaire. Movie studios opposed the legislation, and as of 2002 it had yet to be finalized and enacted. Several companies, including Virtual Celebrity Productions, have purchased the rights to create and use digital clones of various dead celebrities, such as Marlene Dietrich[12] and Vincent Price.[2]

In fictionEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Brooks Landon (2002). "Synthespians, Virtual Humans, and Hypermedia". In Veronica Hollinger and Joan Gordon (ed.). Edging Into the Future: Science Fiction and Contemporary Cultural Transformation. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 57–59. ISBN 0-8122-1804-3.
  2. ^ a b c d Barbara Creed (2002). "The Cyberstar". In Graeme Turner (ed.). The Film Cultures Reader. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-25281-4.
  3. ^ a b c Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann and Daniel Thalmann (2004). Handbook of Virtual Humans. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 6–7. ISBN 0-470-02316-3.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-05-11. Retrieved 2014-07-26.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ a b Paul Martin Lester (2005). Visual Communication: Images With Messages. Thomson Wadsworth. p. 353. ISBN 0-534-63720-5.
  6. ^ Andrew Darley (2000). "The Waning of Narrative". Visual Digital Culture: Surface Play and Spectacle in New Media Genres. Routledge. p. 109. ISBN 0-415-16554-7.
  7. ^ a b Ralf Remshardt (2006). "The actor as imtermedialist: remetiation, appropriation, adaptation". In Freda Chapple and Chiel Kattenbelt (ed.). Intermediality in Theatre and Performance. Rodopi. pp. 52–53. ISBN 90-420-1629-9.
  8. ^ Simon Danaher (2004). Digital 3D Design. Thomson Course Technology. p. 38. ISBN 1-59200-391-5.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Laikwan Pang (2006). "Expressions, originality, and fixation". Cultural Control And Globalization in Asia: Copyright, Piracy, and Cinema. Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 0-415-35201-0.
  11. ^ a b Michael A. Einhorn (2004). "Publicity rights and consumer rights". Media, Technology, and Copyright: Integrating Law and Economics. Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 121, 125. ISBN 1-84376-657-4.
  12. ^ Los Angeles Times / Digital Elite Inc.

Further readingEdit

  • Michael D. Scott and James N. Talbott (1997). "Titles and Characters". Scott on Multimedia Law. Aspen Publishers Online. ISBN 1-56706-333-0. — a detailed discussion of the law, as it stood in 1997, relating to virtual humans and the rights held over them by real humans
  • Richard Raysman (2002). "Trademark Law". Emerging Technologies and the Law: Forms and Analysis. Law Journal Press. pp. 6–15. ISBN 1-58852-107-9. — how trademark law affects digital clones of celebrities who have trademarked their personæ