A common misconception that people seem to be pushing when it comes to director Ang Lee’s latest technical marvel Gemini Man is that the character of Junior is merely a second, de-aged version of Will Smith acting against his present day self. The truth is, the only way that Junior’s character could convincingly be shown in a film that’s meant to be seen in High Frame Rate 3D is if he was a total CGI creation.
There are a couple big reasons behind that necessity, but Lee’s greatest caveat was that in such an advanced film, it’s the only way the effect would have looked believable to the audience. I was in attendance on behalf of CinemaBlend for a roundtable with Ang Lee to talk about Gemini Man and its new methods of pushing the visual envelope that Lee loves to poke and prod at any chance he gets. In that discussion, he explained why Junior had to be a CG character in the following, and greater detailed, answer:
Even in 60 frames per second, and not 120 at 2K, it’s a different mindset than when you watch a regular movie. It’s just different, you have to make the movie differently. I think because of that, it made me want to [create Junior], because you can’t put on makeup, erase wrinkles, and do a different hairstyle, and act up and call it ‘younger’, or cast Will Smith’s son to play him and call that a ‘clone’. With this media, it won’t allow that.
As Ang Lee filmed Gemini Man with a camera rig that not only captured the film at 120 frames per second 4K resolution, but also in a native 3D format, there was a level of bar raising on what the film was going to show its audience. With the increased lighting that is required for the High Frame Rate 3D experience, makeup shows on the screen much easier than it does under traditional lighting.
Instead of traditional methods that merely rely on hairstyling and really good makeup effects to do the heavy lifting, Lee and his team had to craft an entirely digital version of Will Smith that could be dropped into Gemini Man without the audience questioning the effect. Put that together with both a younger physical reference actor and Smith himself providing the performances that would be married together into Junior’s finished product, and you have a particularly impressive effect.
But past the technical pitfalls that required Junior’s completely CGI appearance, there was also another level to Ang Lee’s methodology that led him to believe that the younger clone of Smith’s Henry Brogan needed to be a cutting edge digital illusion. Once again, the subject turned to the aging process, as Lee continued:
You have to invent a new way to do it. I think Junior being a CG character is a requirement with this, it’s a whole package. We do the whole body, not just the face. We go into details probably nobody [has before] with the layers. … We did it from scratch. That’s why I don’t like to call it de-aging, it’s not just [air]brushing. Age does more mysterious things than just the wrinkles.
Rather than take Will Smith’s face and digitally construct a sort of de-aging mask, much like a handful of Marvel Studios films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 have done, the whole cloth creation of Gemini Man’s Junior was meant to truly resurrect a younger Will Smith.
Even in terms of Smith’s performance, Lee coached him to act more like his younger self. Combining those acting skills with reference materials from Six Degrees of Separation and Bad Boys-era Will Smith looks, Junior became more than just a composite current era Smith and his old school looks. It’s basically the next step in bringing virtual performers to living, breathing life; and with Ang Lee sworn to providing digital characters driven by real physical performances, the future of this sort of effort looks rather bright.
De-aging technology has certainly pushed special effects methods lightyears ahead of how flashbacks and clone stories like Gemini Man have been told in the past. Now, with Ang Lee’s CGI character work, combined with Will Smith’s physical performance, another big step has been taken in the name of believable spectacle. We’ll see if audiences buy into this next big thing when Gemini Man pits Will Smith against Will Smith this Friday.
Please note that if you’re looking to see the film in the High Frame Rate 3D format, it’s only available in select locations. So check your listings carefully before you head out, no matter what your preference may be.