If the whole resurrection of James Dean nonsense wasn’t enough to upset fans of the actor and, in general, folks who just want to leave some things alone, more celebs may be digitally exhumed very soon. According to Variety, CMG Online, an intellectual property licensing specialist, has merged with content creation studio Observe Media to form Worldwide XR. This new company plans to put digital human beings in traditional films and augmented virtual reality.
The breadth of the company’s library is quite substantial. It holds and represents the rights for better than 400 stars—actors, actresses, sports figures, etc. Among the celebs who may be on Worldwide XR’s radar: Burt Reynolds, Andre the Giant, Maya Angelou, Bettie Page, and even Lou Gehrig. Quoting almost verbatim from The Sandlot, company CEO Travis Cloyd said, “Influencers will come and go, but legends will never die.”
The fact is, legends do die, which is why preserving the work they did while they were alive is important. Watching a digital impostor parade around in an effort to convince the world he’s the actual Burt Reynolds is not only spooky, but it dishonors the human being in question. How does this company know the actor would have agreed to such a role? They don’t. They are, in effect, posthumously forcing the actor’s hand into something he never consented to.
Worldwide XR plans not only to license the likenesses of celebrities, but also transform existing assets into digital humans. It depends on both individual projects as well how recognizable each celebrity is, Cloyd said. Existing photos and videos could sometimes be adapted into CGI in some cases, though others would demand a look-alike actor to complete the projects.
Cloyd recognizes that he’s upset some people with these initiatives. But he says this sort of thing was inevitable. The company claims it will do its due diligence and handle each representation respectfully, doing these deceased individuals justice (whatever that means).
While it’s never been done to this extent, this won’t be the first time that dead artists have been brought back from the grave in order to sell something, be it a product or a movie. We’ve seen commercials featuring John Wayne, Fred Astaire, and Steve McQueen. And Forrest Gump famously put words into the real John F. Kennedy’s mouth that the president never uttered.
We’ll see where this goes if Finding Jack, starring “James Dean,” ever gets made and distributed, but in a world of deep fakes and digital trickery, perhaps Cloyd is right—this was inevitable.