When all those Harry Potter movie adaptation fans have a chance to see Part Deux of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in 2011, they’ll be able to have a preview for what the famous wizard triumvirate will look like when they’re 30-something actors. Well, we’ll assume they’ll be actors by then and not victims of typecast and wasted acting potential. This particular preview will be the result of CGI progressing to unprecedented levels in movies and allowing young actors to look convincingly like much older adults. Of course, we saw this to some effect in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” last year where Brad Pitt was aged so far to the point we know he’ll apparently look like “On Golden Pond”-era Henry Fonda when an old man. Nevertheless, this effect was slightly different from actually aging actors barely 20 years old.
In “Benjamin Button”, the aging makeup was still the employment of incredibly advanced prosthetics we’ve seen in movies for the last five to ten years, though with Brad Pitt’s face digitally placed on a smaller body. Just in the last year since that movie came out, CGI has been taken to a level where a young face can be digitally transformed as aging to fit onto a logical body, giving the appearance of being a true aged specimen of the same actor. Although as with all CGI, the potentials here are both enormous and a risk to real actors.
When the announcement was made by Harry Potter director David Yates that he wouldn’t be casting adult actors in the roles of older Harry, Ron and Hermione, you might imagine a slight chill was felt down the spines of everybody holding a SAG card. Talk was already starting ten years ago that CGI could eventually replace real actors as technology progressed and CGI creations could be made to stand in for them. We all know that those experiments have already been done with “Final Fantasy” and “Beowulf” in the 2000’s. Nevertheless, there still hasn’t been a huge gravitational pull by the public toward doing more of that.
There also haven’t been any gripes from great actors for providing the voices for those CGI creations who look alarmingly too real. Sir Anthony Hopkins voiced no objections for voicing Hrothgar in 2007’s “Beowulf” perhaps because it’s easy to get enamored of the technology and because they made Hrothgar similar in appearance to the real Hopkins. Similarly, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are reportedly already excited by the prospect of seeing themselves as adults when demonstrated through the new CGI aging effect. Actors usually go along with exciting technological breakthroughs with the apparent thought it won’t erode all acting parts in the movies.
This is all new territory, though, in the realms of CGI. What happens when actors are made to age through digital trickery rather than through prosthetic makeup? AMPAS is likely already getting headaches over how this goes down once every Oscar-caliber actor gets employed in a movie using this technique.
The deeper argument in this new aging CGI trick is in how well the actors can convey the nuances of acting through the digital transfer. Most of the public were in consensus over 100% CGI creations being unable to show the unexplainable and non-creatable auras a real actor has. Then there was the dismissal of motion-capture where a real actor acted with sensors on his or her face and was translated into a CGI representation of him or herself. Neither one of these have been considered, so far, as potentials for winning an Oscar by an actor. If the Harry Potter actors are able to pull off being recognizable playing CGI versions of their adult selves, all of those above dismissals will be reset.
It’ll certainly do away with the need for prosthetic makeup in convincingly aging an actor in a movie role. While we saw certain films in decades past that managed to use aging makeup well, the older era of drawn-on makeup to make an actor look older didn’t always make suspension of disbelief work. And the use of the stunningly real prosthetics of recent years still took hours to apply on the face and body of actors that must have instigated more than a few panic attacks or claustrophobic feelings sitting in the makeup chair.
Now with a malleable CGI aging, there’s a much larger mask to fight their way through to bring emotion to the viewer. We do have at least one hint that it could be successful. That very hint is the final scene of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” where we see (spoiler alert for those still putting off reading the final book) the entire arc of the story come to a cathartic conclusion with the trio in their progressed adult years and kids in tow. Should this final scene not pay off in emotion, then CGI aging will just be an experiment gone awry. If it more than likely does work, we finally get eerily accurate aging in all movies from then on.
Either the excitement over the technology supersedes its abilities, or they’ve done enough tests on it to prove actors can still be recognized under the process. The most fun to be had will be in seeing the film two decades down the road and seeing if the Harry Potter trio really did end up looking like they will in the final scene of “Deathly Hallows” when in their late 30’s. I’m expecting Emma Watson to look the spiffiest of the three if not stowing away a couple of Best Actress Oscars in her arms.
But if they’re like other troubled child actors, they may want to take advantage of the then progressed CGI aging technology and appear in a movie depicting their personas at the age they are now. No doubt this technology could eventually be a way to go home again on the big screen…