64 years after his death, James Dean is set to “return” to the screen in a CGI debut.  

Dean will star in a Vietnam War flick Finding Jack. Dean’s performance as a secondary lead will be constructed using full-body CGI, with footage and pictures of him used to recreate his appearance.  

The film is directed by Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh, who have obtained permission from Dean’s family to use his likeness. 

“This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us,” said CEO of CMG Worldwide Mark Roesler.  

CMG Worldwide recently merged with content creation studio Observe Media to form Worldwide XR. Worldwide XR will focus on incorporating augmented and virtual reality into film and will use deceased celebrities’ likenesses so they can star in new projects. Burt Reynolds, Neil Armstrong, and Maya Angelou are among those likenesses owned by the company.  

There are arguments both for and against these CGI recreations. On one hand, with the actors’ family or executor’s permission, Worldwide XR is legally allowed to use their image posthumously. 

It is not as though this technology has not been used before. Commercials featuring John Wayne, Fred Astaire, and Steve McQueen have aired without much controversy.  

When Paul Walker died unexpectedly in a car accident in 2013, Furious 7 director was faced with the choice to scrap the project or do extensive rewrites. By using outtakes, CGI, and his brother as a body double, the film was completed as scheduled.  

There is perhaps a difference between using CGI to supplement an actor’s likeness if they pass away in the middle of production versus resurrecting an actor that has been dead for almost 65 years to star in a full-length film.  

Doing so takes away jobs from young actors trying to make it in Hollywood. The goal, perhaps, is to save money on salary costs. Zelda Williams addressed this issue on Twitter: “those actors will not be paid well, and DEFINITELY will not be ‘recognized’ for their work.”  

There is also the issue of consent. While the family can vouch for their likeness, there is no guarantee that Dean himself would have wanted to be a part of this project. In that instance, the use of CGI becomes exploitative.  

It also disregards the work that the actor did while alive and devalues the art of their craft. As Chris Evans wrote on Twitter, “This is awful. Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso. Or write a couple of new John Lennon tunes.”  

Using actors’ likenesses walks a thin line between its technological marvel and exploitative of a deceased person’s likeness while devaluing the work they did while alive.  

The commercialization of celebrities’ images is clear. CEO of Worldwide XR, Travis Cloyd, perhaps summed it up best when he said:  

“There is a lot more to come for James Dean. Think of it as James Dean 2.0.”

Photo by Jakob Owens or Unsplash.com.

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