When most people think about computer generated special effects in movies, they may imagine digitally created monsters, like Doomsday in Batman V Superman, or inanimate objects imbued with life, like the toys of Toy Story. But these days, digital effects artists in the movie business are also plying their trade in more subtle and worrying ways, such as removing years and pounds from actors, replacing people’s faces and bodies entirely, and even creating photo-realistic doubles for performers. Writer Logan Hill offers readers a glimpse of the brave new world of digital “beauty work” in a Vulture article called “Plastic Surgery With A Mouse Click.” CGI, it turns out, is being used in a whole host of ways, many of which the average viewer would never suspect. “If you leave the theater thinking your favorite actor has perfect skin and no body fat, then I did my job,” says Edson Williams, co-founder of Lola Visual Effects, a firm that specializes in this kind of work.
As the article reveals, the mouse is the new scalpel, and Photoshop is trumping plastic surgery. Paul Reubens, now 63, says he could have saved Netflix a couple of million dollars by having a face lift before reprising his role as the eternally boyish Pee-wee Herman in Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. Instead, however, Reubens was de-aged digitally. The same could happen, Hill speculates, when septuagenarian Harrison Ford portrays Indiana Jones for the fifth time on screen. But CGI isn’t just for senior citizens. The teenage characters on youth-oriented shows like Glee have had their pimples digitally removed. A practice that knows no age limits, meanwhile, is using digital face-swapping to replace one actor with another during post-production, as occurred on WGN’s Salem. As described in this article, digital effects artists seem capable of manipulating images in infinite ways. Whether they should be doing this, however, is a matter of debate. Joe Walker, the editor of 12 Years A Slave, has some qualms: “On one level, there’s Ken Loach, and on the other, it’s Michael Bay. And I worry about any technology that pushes us more toward the Bay end.”