For a guy who will turn 54 years old later this month, Johnny Depp looks great. He seems to have discovered the fountain of youth, but even his own natural good looks wouldn't be able to properly sell a twenty-something Jack Sparrow. Luckily, that's why we have modern technology. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales uses some serious computer magic to turn Johnny Depp into his young heartthrob self, and the process of making it a reality sounds incredibly complicated. Specifically, the process required the Pirates team to quite literally combine Johnny Depp's performance with the body of a younger actor.
In a recent interview with Blasting News, directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg talked at length about the process of turning back the clock on Johnny Depp's looks in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. To achieve the look, they examined Depp's real appearance from his time on 21 Jump Street (when he was roughly 24-years-old) and used that to guide them. Then they had Depp perform the flashback sequences as Jack Sparrow from the latest Pirates movie and captured his movements using a series of dots on his face. From there, the team then had a younger stand-in perform the scene, which they subsequently combined with Depp's earlier performance.
All in all, the process took roughly a year to complete, but it worked. The young version of Jack Sparrow is a dead ringer for the heartthrob of the 1980s, and the spitting image of the teen idol that people fell in love with in movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Cry-Baby.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is far from the only Disney film to play with de-aging visual effects over the last few years. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made particularly significant strides with the technique, working wonders on actors like Michael Douglas in Ant-Man, Robert Downey Jr. In Captain America: Civil War, and Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The method seems to get better with each passing year, and it doesn't seem entirely outlandish to assume that it will become even more commonplace as we move into the future. After all, just look at how far we have come since 2010's CGI Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy.
Of course, while the de-aging technology has improved by a substantial margin in recent years, this type of technique still isn't perfect. We have yet to nail one specific piece of technical filmmaking: the resurrection of deceased actors. Although Johnny Depp was able to appear in Pirates of the Caribbean 5 and help create a life-like version of a young Jack Sparrow, bringing someone like the late Peter Cushing back to life (which occurred in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) has proven to be far more challenging. The process is still improving, but for now, it's clear that de-aging a living icon like Depp remains a far more useful technique.