Digital Domain added decades to David Beckham’s face for the Malaria Must Die – So Millions Can Live short, produced by RSA Films Amsterdam. Using a combination of traditional VFX techniques and its proprietary face-swapping technology, “Charlatan,” Digital Domain was able to take Beckham deep into the future without a 3D scan.
In the short, an older Beckham is making a speech on the day malaria has ended, sending a message of hope from years down the line. As he speaks, the years fall away, leaving the Beckham of today to make this final plea – a malaria-free future is possible in our lifetimes, but only if we keep up the fight.
To deliver this transformation, Digital Domain received performance clips of both Beckham and an older stand-in delivering the speech. These reference materials were then fed into Charlatan, a technology that uses machine learning and video footage to produce realistic digidoubles. Because Charlatan is non-invasive, the system could be completely trained through principal photography, allowing Beckham to film his scenes without an intensive data capture shoot.
To give artists a running start, Charlatan intelligently merged the performances of current-day Beckham and an older stand-in to automatically project what an older Beckham would look like giving the same speech. Through this process, key age characteristics like skin motion and specific wrinkles were woven into the likeness, while keeping all of Beckham’s unique attributes. This shaved months of sculpting time off the process and helped the team have a natural-looking nose, laugh lines and other hard-to-animate features nearly finished before the traditional techniques came into play.
With a high-res base to work from, artists began applying a human touch to the face, defining key parts of the aging process with the help of traditional techniques, like matte painting and compositing. As aging cues are highly subjective, artists needed full rein over the hair, skin and beard to create a believable transformation. Unlike most methods, though, the team didn’t have to create a single bit of 3D geometry to do it, helping them turn out a final asset in under eight weeks.