If you’ve ever wanted to see Will Smith bicker with himself, it looks likeGemini Man is going to be the film for you. Ang Lee‘s special effects-driven action flick has old man Will Smith fighting young man Will Smith, which means the Will Smiths get to shout insults at each other in between bullets. A new Gemini Man clip has the Smiths engaged in a standoff. Things don’t go well.
Every time I see new footage of Gemini Man, I can’t help but remember Rian Johnson’s Looper. That movie had a similar concept: an older version of a man battling his younger self. But it didn’t rely on digital tech – it simply slapped some make-up on Joseph Gordon-Levitt and made him look like Bruce Willis. And it worked! And worked well!
But here, we get a digitally created young Will Smith dealing with a current-day Will Smith, and I have yet to be sold on the idea. And this clip doesn’t exactly help – it’s quick, and there’s something off here about Smith talking with Smith. But maybe in the full context of the film itself all of this will coalesce. Will Smith is one of the last true movie stars, and he can be damn fun to watch with the right role. Here, he has two to work with. And he’s working with Ang Lee, a wonderful filmmaker who loves to play around with technology. That’s a lot of positive stuff wrapped-up in one project.
“The two Will Smith’s coexisting, with one looking so much younger, in this medium the feeling is kind of existential,” Ang Lee told /Film at a roundtable interview. “It really makes you wonder about your own existence and what would you tell your younger self. And also see your trajectory when you’re young.”
Lee and company have also stressed that this isn’t just a digitally de-aged Will Smith we’re seeing in the movie. It’s a creation from scratch:
“We did it from scratch. That’s why I don’t like to call it de-aging, it’s not just a brush-up. Age has more mysteries than just the wrinkles. When we started I was looking at him and thought, “Should he look older? Is he too young?” No. It’s kind of sad what life does to you. Every layer of skin, every bone, it’s just sad how much you age, even your enamel in your teeth, it’s all the subtle changes. It’s very inspiring, actually.”
In Gemini Man, Smith plays Henry Brogan, “an elite assassin, who is suddenly targeted and pursued by a mysterious young operative that seemingly can predict his every move.” The movie also stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, and Benedict Wong.
It’s the year of digital de-aging as technology caught up with need for Martin Scorsese’s mobster epic, “The Irishman,” and Ang Lee’s sci-fi/thriller, “Gemini Man.” Industrial Light & Magic devised an unobtrusive facial capture breakthrough to make Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci look decades younger as hitman Frank Sheeran, Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, and Philly crime boss Russell Bufalino, respectively. And Weta Digital has constructed the most fully realized digital human yet as 50-year-old Will Smith fights 23-year-old Will Smith in a face off between a hitman and his clone.
Meanwhile, Lola VFX, which has become the de-aging specialists for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has made great strides this year with its vaunted 2D Photoshopping-like procedure of skin smoothing and shape warping on “Captain Marvel,” making Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury look decades younger without the use of a digital double for the first time. For good measure, Lola also tackled puberty on “It Chapter Two” to slightly de-age The Loser’s Club.
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When Netflix premiered Scorsese’s long-awaited three-and-a-half-hour saga at the New York Film Festival last week, ILM’s costly de-aging experiment pushing the budget to $160 million proved effective in conveying the Oscar-worthy performances from 76-year-old De Niro, 79-year-old Pacino, and 76-year-old Pesci. Not surprisingly, the director’s summary statement about “loyalty, love, trust, and ultimately betrayal,” represents his version of Sergio Leone’s similarly-themed “Once Upon a Time in America,” which also starred De Niro. Except Scorsese has replaced De Niro’s opium-induced fever dream with a grittier though no less mournful remembrance of things past.
Indeed, the key to Scorsese’s de-aging strategy on “The Irishman” was presenting Sheeran’s criss-crossing flashbacks mostly the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s as an elderly man’s reflection on his life. It was therefore about shaping performances with youthful massaging rather than creating younger replicas of De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci. “This isn’t just about lenses and computer imagery,” Scorsese said at the New York Film Festival Q&A. “It’s about posture, it’s about movement, it’s about clarity of the eyes, everything.” Which is why during his first shooting experience with Pacino, the director had him do several additional takes, jumping up from his chair in anger while watching JFK on TV with his family until he approximated the age-appropriate 49-year-old Hoffa.
For ILM, the tech challenge was to create the lightest possible capture footprint for the trio of actors. “In the first meeting four years ago, De Niro said there was no way he was going to wear a helmet camera or facial markers,” ILM VFX supervisor Pablo Helman told IndieWire. “He wanted to be onset with the lighting, acting with other actors. And he said there will not be any controlled environment for re-shoots.
“With helmet cams you need to do calibration and that also requires two hours of makeup,” added Helman. De Niro only required makeup with no de-aging as the elderly Sheeran. “And the main problem for marker technology has to do with the lighting. You need to get those faces lit or else those markers don’t read. What we came up with is something that has never been used before without helmet cameras or markers.”
The camera system and companion software that ILM developed captured the actors' facial performances on set with no additional lighting requirements, and then translated those unaltered performances to full 3D CG versions of their younger selves with its proprietary models. The camera system consisted of three witness cameras rigged together with the same lenses as the principal cameras employed by DP Rodrigo Prieto, who termed the bulky system, “the three-headed monster.”
“It was slowly getting through performances and getting through takes, and moving on,” Helman said. “They were never waiting for us. But the post-production process was a little bit different from any other production that I have been on. We had never really showed Marty intermediate takes. He trusted us enough so that we would finish a shot, render it with the right lighting, and we would show him the performance. And if the performance had the same feeling that he had with the original performance he selected, we moved on.”
But if it didn’t, they discussed getting a better match. Scorsese, however, insisted on no keyframe-animated enhancements. ILM strictly used the raw data to slightly dial up the variation models for the three actors to achieve greater fidelity to their performances. De Niro developed the reserved Sheeran with a signature scowl, Pacino played the hot-headed Hoffa with manic exuberance, and Pesci offered a quiet menace as Bufalino. “[Scorsese] painted these characters as having a really rough life and, to him, it means that some people age differently than others, and there are all kinds of wrinkles and even body movements that echo what you have lived,” Helman said. “That is something that is completely different. And this achievement is going to be measured for what it does for the next generation of filmmakers on set with lighting.”
By contrast, “Gemini Man” offered a completely different approach to de-aging shot in 3D at 120 frames-per-second and 4k resolution by cinematographer Dion Beebe. In fact, the filmmakers refuse to call it de-aging. “We are not de-aging,” Lee said. “I rather think that we are creating a new character, a youthful Will Smith.”
“To the layman, yes, de-aging is just making a person look younger,” added production VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer. “But from our side, de-aging has been associated with the Lola process. Whereas this is creating a person from whole cloth. We knew we had to make a digital human and once we did, it made sense to do it everywhere.”
Paramount Pictures / screen cap
Smith played the aging Henry as well as his clone, Junior, channeling his younger self. Junior, therefore, represents a major character breakthrough for Weta, appearing in more than half the movie, and required to express a range of emotions performed by Smith.
Weta created the CG Junior under the supervision of Guy Williams by studying the morphology of aging at it applied to the actor. The wizards of Weta then made great strides particularly in the areas of skin and eye work. The animators created a new procedural software for pores that simulates areas between the pores and along the natural fall lines for a more natural look. And modeled a dark retina for the eyes to reveal more depth, and provided an additional film surface that sits across the eye for greater fidelity.
And accommodating 120 fps worked to Weta’s advantage with some of the smooth skin artifice replaced by more natural sharpness and crispness. “That’s why we [pushed] the envelope as hard as we possibly can do,” said Westenhofer, “to be the first to deliver a fully convincing digital human.”
But Lola, the de-aging expert, has come a long way since touching up Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in “X-Men: The Last Stand” 2006, Brad Pitt in the Oscar-winning “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” 2008, Michael Douglas in “Ant-Man” 2015, Robert Downey Jr. in “Captain America: Civil War” 2016, Kurt Russell in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” 2017, and Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Laurence Fishburne in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” 2018.
“One of the things that we'd always done in the past was to shoot a double and to recreate a performance so the main actor would do the piece, the other actor would watch, and then they would re-enact the thing,” said “Captain Marvel'” production VFX supervisor Christopher Townsend. “But with Sam being in two-thirds of 'Captain Marvel,' we couldn't do that. It would take too much time and be too difficult to match performances for every shot.”
Fortunately, Jackson has aged very well and has great skin, so it was no problem for Lola to go without a double. They used some makeup to pull back the skin on his neck, but relied on the actor’s performance with no grafting - just slimming and tightening and smoothing over. “It's very exciting to arrive at this point where we're de-aging a major character for the entire length of a film,” said Lola VFX supervisor Trent Claus. “With a project of this scale, we did indeed have to modify our usual methods a bit in order to accommodate the volume of shots.”
Ultimately, though, the de-aging process must always be at the service of the actor’s performance. “You're sculpting this whole thing,” Scorsese said. “It's like living models in a way. Plus the truth of how they're interpreting. It's an extraordinary experience.”
EXCLUSIVE: Terence Carter, 20th Century Fox TV's EVP Development, Drama and Comedy. is leaving the Disney-owned studio to join Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith's recently launched Westbrook Studios as Co-President, Head Of Television.
Carter, who starts in early November, will oversee TV development and production for the indie studio, working alongside Jon Mone, who was recently appointed as Co-President of Westbrook Studios, Head of Film.
20th TV, part of Disney TV Studios, is expected to name a replacement for Carter who is leaving on good terms and will stay at the studio for several more weeks to finish some of his projects.
Carter, a well liked executive, is bringing more than a decade of senior-level development experience to Westbrook Studios, a division of Westbrook Inc, the new media venture Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith founded in July with Miguel Melendez and Kosaku Yada. It is run by CEO Yada and PresidentTera Hanks.
“Terence's deep relationships with creators, commitment to collaboration, and remarkable experience across television genres make him an excellent leader and creative force,” said Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith. “We are incredibly excited to have Terence expanding and leading our television activities at Westbrook Studios.”
Carter's move to Westbrook Studios comes two and a half months after the executive shakeup at Disney TV Studios, which saw 20th TV President of Creative Affairs Jonnie Davis become President of ABC Studios. He was replaced at 20th TV by EVP Current Series Carolyn Cassidy, who had been at the studio for more than a decade. The decision put EVP Development Carter, who had been at 20th TV for less than two years, in play. Over the past couple of months, he had been courted for a number of jobs, including within Disney, ultimately opting to go to Westbrook.
“I am thrilled to be embarking on this incredible adventure with Will, Jada and the rest of the Westbrook Family,” Carter said. “I have long admired their creative instincts and unwavering commitment to the television business, and I can't wait to grow this company together. I'd also like to thank Dana Walden, Peter Rice, and everyone at 20th Century Fox and Disney Television Studios for their support over the past decade of my career. I am forever in their debt, and can't wait to bring them great content through Westbrook in the years to come.”
Before joining 20th TV as EVP Development, Carter was head of drama for Fox Broadcasting Co. Among the series Carter developed at 20th and Fox are 9-1-1, Empire, Bless This Mess, Single Parents, Gotham, Lucifer, Lethal Weapon, Star, 24: Legacy,Sleepy Hollow, Wayward Pines, The Exorcist, The X-Filesrevival, Gifted, The Orville, The Resident as well as the upcoming Soundtrack on Netflix and Love, Simon on Disney+. He joined Fox in 2009 and was promoted to SVP drama at 2011 and to EVP in 2014, adding current programming to his development duties.
Prior to that, Carter worked at NBC Entertainment/Universal Studios where he developed shows such as Parenthood and Southland and held positions at Tonic Films, TruEntertainment, Artists Production Group and Artists Management Group.
“Gemini Man” is a baffling product born from a bizarre idea. The story was conceived in 1997 Tony Scott was billed to direct and was tossed between directors and re-assigned lead actors including Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood until it landed with Skydance Media in 2016 and Ang Lee signed on to direct in 2017. For Lee, it seems to make sense — the film welds concerns that have colored a number of his projects: the debate of Nature v Nurture; the alienation of a fraying man; the challenge of what digital filmmaking can do. On paper, “Gemini Man” tends to all three concerns, but in practice the film is impenetrable beyond its technological clout.
Smith plays Henry Brogan, a 51-year-old revered government assassin who wants to retire. “Gemini Man” opens with one of Henry's recent jobs, showing through a viewfinder just how sharp his shot is. As soon as Henry tries to opt out of trouble, trouble comes hunting him around the corner. And with the excruciating detail that the film's 120-frames-per-second technology prescribes, it's impossible to ignore just how alarming this new threat is. Henry tells people he's been avoiding mirrors lately — so naturally, it's in one that he sees the reflection of his hitman. The film earns its title and central conflict by, 45 minutes in, showing the audience that Henry's hunter looks just like him.
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Lee previously used the high frame rate in 2016 with “Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk,” the first feature to showcase the technology. The ambitious decision didn't quite convince at the time, with that film being scorned for losing in emotional depth what it gained in visual detail. How did he recover? By diving headfirst into an explosive action movie in which Will Smith fights Will Smith — and using the very same technology, amped-up and still the main event.
From the very beginning of “Gemini Man,” Lee's passion for visual minutiae is impressive to the point of distraction. Being able to count the individual hairs on Will Smith's arm, noticing the dancing specks of light from a fire, following the specific trajectory of a fly before it's swatted — these are integral parts of the film's agenda, just as the panoramic beauty of an orange sunset over Buttermilk Sound feels fitting for the man who won four Oscars for the marvelous visual tapestries of “Life of Pi”. But once Lee establishes what he can do with technology in “Gemini Man” — and it's a lot — it becomes difficult to refocus emotion onto anything more human. By multiplying life, “Gemini Man” too often merely dilutes it.
In the first brawl between Smith and Smith 2.0 dubbed Junior, the breadth of Lee's skill is put to the test with astonishing results. It comes before any kind of stilted confrontation with words, exemplifying just how immersive video game-type visuals can be when done well. The camera keeps motion aligned to action, rather than atmosphere, and in the dizzy POV shots atop both Henry and Junior's motorcycles, it's breathtaking fun.
But it's the script that fails the concept. Once the initial shock of the twist has worn off, revelatory conversations are paced with a total lack of tension, acting as wooden narrative roadblocks rather than crucial words between actual living, thinking human beings. Everything is in service of the aesthetic — in the same way that Junior struggles to become his full self, a clone with a soul, “Gemini Man” fails to ever fully become a whole movie, surviving instead as a successful science experiment of great tech and poor heart.
It doesn't help that every cast member feels disconnected from the next. Brogan's friendships are generic and disposable — he mourns a co-worker only briefly, and seeks advice from a stereotypically wealthy, married man who owns a boat and nods to a bikini-clad girl on it. Benedict Wong crops up and becomes a centerpiece for entertaining action-figure violence and also smokes a cigar while watching a soccer game in one shot, presumably serving no other purpose than to show how good smoke looks when shot at 120 frames per second. Mary Elizabeth Winstead holds her ground as a slightly more fleshed-out female counterpart than the bro-heavy genre has offered in the past, but when you're anyone, acting opposite Will Smith and a digital not de-aged motion-capture version of Will Smith...well, it could never really be focused on anyone else.
“Gemini Man” offers a tremendous exercise for the actor: Smith is not the first to play side-by-side versions of himself, as this movie becomes a sort of roughened-up dystopian riff on “The Parent Trap” albeit with less matchmaking, but the cross-generational dynamic between both of Smith's characters increases the performer's empathetic strength. It's a shame, then, that such a promising psychological angle is at war, as ever, with the tech.
This is certainly a step forward from “Billy Lynn”, and a major achievement in terms of Lee's ongoing campaign for the medium's progress. But the movie is a feature-length version of what happens when you look at any one thing for too long: The object — or in this case, Will Smith's face — eventually stops making sense; the sheen wears off, and the armor rings hollow.
Paramount releases “Gemini Man” theatrically on October 11, 2019.
Peter Landesman wrote the script for the film about Nicky Barnes, the Harlem-based mobster who was dubbed "Mr. Untouchable."
Will Smith, just weeks away from opening his sci-fi action movie Gemini Man, is heading back to Netflix.
The actor has signed on to star in and produce The Council, a crime biopic written by Peter Landesman. The two previously worked together when Smith starred in Concussion, the 2015 drama Landesman wrote and directed.
Smith will produce with James Lassiter, his partner at Overbrook Entertainment, now under the umbrella of Smith's Westbrook Inc. Also producing are Matt Jackson via Jackson Pictures and Jason Essex for Anonymous Nobodies.
The Council aims to tell the story of an organized crime syndicate run by seven black mobsters who operated in Harlem in the 1970s. The men dreamed of a self-sufficient and self-policing African-American city-state, funded by revolutionizing the drug game.
Netflix is describing the story as centering on the Shakespearean court intrigue between the council's king, Nicky Barnes, dubbed “Mr. Untouchable” by The New York Times, and all the different members of the council.
Smith will play Barnes, the man who partnered with the Italian Mafia to start his own syndicate, specializing in the heroin trade. He was arrested in 1978 and, after a series of incidents, turned on the council by becoming a federal informant. He was in the witness protection program and, though he died in 2012, his death was only reported this year.
Executive producing the project are Landesman, Jackson Pictures' Joanne Lee and David Lee for Anonymous Nobodies.
No director is yet on board.
Smith, who previously starred in the $1 billion-grossing Aladdin remake, toplined one of Netflix's early feature hits, the 2017 sci-fi fantasy Bright, directed by David Ayers. He and Overbrook are repped by CAA and Sloan Offer.
CAA and Jackoway Tyerman negotiated on behalf of Landesman. Jackson is repped by CAA and Manatt Phelps.
Will Smith has signed on to star in and produce Netflix’s upcoming film “The Council,” the fact-based story of of Nicky Barnes, who led a New York City crime syndicate that ruled Harlem in the ’70s and ’80s. While Barnes has been a secondary character in films before, the new film will be the first to focus squarely on the man and his criminal enterprise. The screenplay was written by journalist and veteran of the biopic genre Peter Landesman. He wrote and directed 2015’s “Concussion,” which stars Smith as a doctor who fights against the NFL over his research on traumatic brain injury, the 2013 post-Kennedy-assassination tale “Parkland,” and Watergate drama “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.”
Per the film’s official synopsis, “‘The Council’ is the never-before told story of a crime syndicate consisting of seven African-American men who ruled Harlem in the 1970s and early 80s. No ordinary crime syndicate — the men dreamed of a self-sufficient and self-policing African American city-state, funded by revolutionizing the drug game. The movie centers on the Shakespearean court intrigue between The Council's king, Nicky Barnes, dubbed ‘Mr. Untouchable’ by the New York Times, and all the different members as one unlikely rising protégé emerges.”
The studio also shares that, “Barnes, whose death was recently made known, was an American crime boss, active in New York City during the 1970s who led an international drug trafficking ring, in partnership with the Italian-American Mafia, until his arrest in 1978. Barnes was sentenced to life imprisonment, eventually becoming a federal informant.”
No director or release date has been announced yet. Landesman will also executive produce along with Jackson Pictures' Joanne Lee and David Lee for Anonymous Nobodies. Along with Smith, James Lassiter will produce for Westbrook Inc.'s Overbrook Entertainment, as will Jackson Pictures' Matt Jackson and Jason Essex for Anonymous Nobodies.
The film marks Smith’s return to Netflix after the success of “Bright,” a big hit for the streamer that reportedly notched 11 million streaming viewers during its first three days of release back in 2017. While the film was critically maligned, the Netflix Original was big business for the studio, which currently has a sequel in development.
While “The Council” will mark the first feature to focus entirely on Barnes, he’s a familiar character on the big screen. Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed him in Ridley Scott’s 2007 drama “American Gangster,” based on the life of Frank Lucas. He was played by Sean Combs in the 2005 film “Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power.”
In 2007, Barnes released his co-written biography, “Mr. Untouchable.” A Mark Levin-directed documentary by the same name was also released that year.
Next up for Smith: pulling double duty in the Ang Lee sci-fi film “Gemini Man,” set for release by Paramount next month, and the animated “Spies in Disguise,” which is due out in December from Disney's Blue Sky Studios.