NRM Streamcast Dean blog
Long live James Dean??

In recent years, CGI has altered what we previously believed was possible in film. In the 2016 Stars Wars film Rogue One, producers used CGI to create a younger Carrie Fisher for a Princess Leia cameo just before the events of A New Hope. In 2019, Captain Marvel de-aged Samuel L. Jackson 25 years to play Nick Fury in the film’s 1995 setting. Now, it seems that CGI may even be able to raise actors from the dead.

The Hollywood Reporter has reported that James Dean, who died in 1955, has been cast as Rogan in the upcoming Vietnam war drama Finding Jack. The film’s directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh, and their production House Magic City Films, have obtained the rights to Dean’s image from his family.

“We feel very honored that his family supports us and will take every precaution to ensure that his legacy as one of the most epic film stars to date is kept firmly intact. The family views this as his fourth movie, a movie he never got to make. We do not intend to let his fans down,” Ernst told The Hollywood Reporter.

Dean’s performance will be crafted using “full body” CGI by Canadian VFX company MOI Worldwide in partnership with South Africa VFX company MOI Worldwide. Basically, what these two VFX companies aim to do is create a Dean performance entirely based on actual footage and photos for Finding Jack.

This is a radical departure from how CGI has previously de-aged or created acting performances. Previously, there had to be a double on which to impose the actor’s image. Rogue One used actors Guy Henry and Ingvild Delia, and Captain Marvel simply had to de-age Jackson’s actual performance.

In these films, there was no creation of performance, just creation of image. What Finding Jack wants to do is create a classic James Dean performance out of nothing but pixels, data, and the voice of another actor.

Is this even possible? Can actors and their performances can be entirely recreated by VFX and CGI without the actors themselves ever being involved?

Finding Jack will be the testing ground for such an approach. Ernst and Golykh are hopeful that this technology could soon be used to resurrect other long-dead figures for the big screen.

Imagine a world in which Ingrid Bergman and Christopher Reeve star opposite Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone in Zombieland 5. Or a world in which Elvis Presley plays the theater teacher in a High School musical reboot?

Go ahead and laugh. It sounds ridiculous, but it may also be the future. If it becomes easy and cheap to place new performances of our most beloved cultural icons in film, why wouldn’t filmmakers do it?

Predictably, however, the reaction to Dean’s CGI casting has not been positive.

Actor Chris Evans wrote on Twitter, “This is awful. Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso. Or write a couple new John Lennon tunes. The lack of understanding here is shameful.” Other Dean fans also seem angry and dismayed at this news.

What is at stake in this argument over Dean’s CGI recreation is acting. Is it a craft that requires thoughtful, present acting, or can performances be created in a computer?

James Dean made three films before dying at 24: East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. With these three roles, Dean created an image of a brooding, misunderstood outcast. Those films feel special, as Dean’s performanceswere packed with intensity.

Can CGI and VFX recapture that? Doubtful. And maybe, they shouldn’t. Trying to recapture the magic of Dean and other performers long dead feels both futile and disrespectful. If we want to watch James Dean in a film, revisit the ones he made. Don’t insert him into a secondary lead role in a film for a war he was barely alive for.

What do you think of Dean’s CGI recreation? Let us know below in the comments!

Written by Jillian Law