In The Scenario, reporter Kirbie Johnson takes readers behind the scenes of the buzziest movies and TV shows to reveal how the best wigs, special effects makeup, and more are created. For this edition, Johnson gets the full scoop on how they made Harrison Jones look 40 years younger in the latest Indiana Jones film.
In Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Harrison Ford closes out his chapter in what’s been often referred to as “the role of a lifetime.” Ford began the franchise in 1981 when he was 39 and now, at 81, has literally had this gig for half of his life. In the fifth film, audiences have been delighted to see new scenes of the actor with his likeness from 40 years prior. So how exactly did they de-age Ford?
De-aging is a technique we’re beginning to see more of in the visual effects category, although the technology used to pull it off is not new. Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the visual effects company created by Indiana Jones creator George Lucas, has been replacing stunt performers’ faces with the principal actors’ faces since 1991. Take, for instance, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene in Terminator 2 where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face is swapped onto the body of a stuntman. In Jurassic Park, ILM had to replace a stunt double’s face with actor Ariana Richards’s for the scene where character Lex Murphy is hanging out of the ceiling in the kitchen with the raptors chomping at her feet. Netflix’s Stranger Things implemented this type of technology in 2022’s season 4, when flashbacks revealed Eleven’s backstory as a young child: 11-year-old actor Martie Blair performed the scenes, then footage of Millie Bobby Brown from past seasons digitally replaced Blair’s face. One of the most significant de-aging moments in the last five years happened in The Mandalorian, when Mark Hamill made a reappearance as a young Luke Skywalker at the end of season two. It was utilized in The Irishman, too, courtesy of ILM. It’s striking to the audience, and when done well, it propels the story forward with sentimental value.
How the De-Aging Process Goes Beyond Deep Fakes
For Dial of Destiny, it’s not as simple as placing Harrison’s 39-year-old face over his current 81-year-old one. Many online would put this type of work into the “deep fake” category. While the technology used is related to how someone could create a totally fabricated video of President Biden rapping, there’s more precision, technology, and artistic finesse utilized to make these images seem realistic for the silver screen, with multiple people with a variety of specific expertise helping to create the final outcome.
Industrial Light and Magic has coined this overall process ILM FaceSwap. The images we end up seeing in a scene are crafted by various sectors of the visual effects house; the company refers to these offerings as being a part of the FaceSwap tool set. For example, Sherry Hitch, visual effects compositing supervisor on Dial of Destiny, tells Allure that before they started tinkering with images in post production, a proprietary system called Flux was used to film Ford during production. Flux is a two camera setup that straddles the main camera and is shot in infrared (IR), which allows cinematographers to film light that is not visible to the naked eye. That data along with the facial tracking dots utilized on Ford during the performance help bring FaceSwap to life.