Back in 2012, Tupac Shakur appeared in concert at Coachella in 2012. That’s quite a feat, considering he died in 1996. The Tupac at the concert was just a hologram, but even his digital presence helped make that concert an experience to remember.
In 2019, Samuel L. Jackson played a young Nick Fury in the “Captain Marvel” movie. That too is quite a feat, considering Mr. Jackson was 70 years old at the time. He was able to appear young, thanks to advanced CGI that effectively de-aged him.
Other dead celebrities have shown up in other media. The since deceased Peter Cushing reprised his role as Grand Moff Tarken in “Star Wars: Rogue One” thanks to similar CGI technology. Paul Walker was able to get a proper send-off in “Fast and Furious 7” after his tragic death thanks to this technology. As the technology improves and other famous celebrities pass on, this practice is likely to continue and expand.
That raises some interesting questions that has some profound, yet disturbing implications. Some of those questions are easier to answer than others. This is the easy one.
Will there eventually be a celebrity who becomes digitally immortal?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is eventually, but there will be some complications along the way.
Modern CGI technology is amazing. We’ve come a long way from the flashy, but wholly unrealistic graphics of “Tron.” Through the development of technology like artificial intelligence deep fakes, which has its own mix of dystopian uses, it’s possible to replicate someone’s appearance, voice, and mannerisms. This replication isn’t perfect, but it’s getting to a point where it’s hard to tell it’s fake.
As this technology improves, it’ll get to a point where a rendering of a celebrity isn’t just indistinguishable from the real celebrity. It’ll be capable of saying, doing, and acting in any way a studio or producer would want. While that has some dangerous possibilities for political ads and porn, it could also completely change the entertainment industry.
That Tupac hologram I mentioned earlier was basically just a recording synched to a projection. Even though Samuel L. Jackson was de-aged in “Captain Marvel,” the actor still had to be there to give him the necessary voice, mannerisms, and attitude. He couldn’t have been a hologram and be believable. The technology just isn’t there yet.
It will get there, though. There doesn’t need to be some huge leap in computer technology or artificial intelligence to make an entirely digital celebrity. It’s just a matter of processing power, data crunching, and better hardware. It will happen. It might even happen within the next couple decades. That raises another key question.
Who will be the first digitally immortal celebrity?
By digitally immortal, I don’t just mean recordings set to holograms or faces projected onto body doubles. A truly digitally immortal celebrity will be capable of starring in new movies and TV shows long after their dead. They’ll be able to make new music and perform it, albeit through a hologram. While their bodies might be gone, they’ll never stop contributing to pop culture.
That definitely has some legal implications. I doubt any studio could get away with creating a digital rendering of Carrie Fisher to star in a new movie. However, I suspect one celebrity will eventually license their figure and likeness so that they can keep being celebrities, long after they’re dead. Maybe they’ll do it so their families can be fincianlly set for life. Maybe they’ll do it because they never want to leave the public eye.
Whatever their reasons, someone will eventually do this. It’s just a question of who.
Will it be Taylor Swift?
Will it be Tom Cruise?
Will it be Jennifer Lopez?
Will it be Samuel L. Jackson?
It’s hard to say. If I had to bet money, I’d put it on Samuel L. Jackson. Knowing Disney and their vast resources, I’d be shocked if they weren’t investing in this technology this instant. Bankable celebrities are an increasingly precious commodity in the entertainment world. The incentives are there. It’s just a matter of time and a matter of whom.
Personally, I’d love to hear Samuel L. Jackson call people motherfuckers for generations to come. That’s just me.