Marvel Studios’ effects guru reveals the secrets of digital de-aging

spider-man: no way home

Since 2008 Marvel Studios has changed the world of cinema, though there’s a compelling argument that as dazzling an accomplishment the MCU is, they haven’t really made any big technical strides forward. The counter to that is the way these movies have continually broken new ground with their de-aging tech in films. The young Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War was impressive, though the most prominent and successful example is Samuel L. Jackson in the 1990s-set Captain Marvel.

Exactly how Marvel’s VFX teams achieve this has now been detailed in an excellent video by VFX team The Corridor Crew, whose YouTube channel is by far the best source of information about how good and bad shots were assembled in major movies. This week they’re focusing on Spider-Man: No Way Home, which featured incredible use of de-aging tech to bring back Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe’s respective villains.

Kelly Port of Digital Domain joined them on the sofa to talk them through the process, saying:

“It’s a bunch of different techniques. Some studios have sort of a deep fake type of technique. There’s a lot of proprietary facial tracking that goes into it, and then they essentially just track that one and have to relight it. It’s also kind of pushing, tucking, and pulling.

There’s all these characteristics that happen as a human being ages and those are the things that you just basically have to now correct for, and you can overcorrect for it, and they start to look too young or too different. And so, we tried to do our best to keep it pretty subtle, but just have it ring more towards what he looked like in the previous film.”

As Port points out, having Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 on hand as a reference for precisely how Molina and Defoe should appear is a huge help. Going forwards, the de-aging tech will become more and more common, especially as most studios are building up a database of scans of each major actor they work with in case they need them for a ‘younger’ version of their character years down the line.

Port’s studio Digital Domain offers just that service. If an individual celebrity wants a perfect model of their current features from every angle right down to the pores they can contract them individually to do it. This may mean you should get used to the top actors working today, as there’s every chance they’ll be making fresh-faced appearances in new movies for decades to come.

After its epic theatrical run, Spider-Man: No Way Home is now available to rent or purchase digitally.

About the author

David James

David James

London-based writer about everything and anything. Willing to crawl over rusty nails to write about Metal Gear Solid or Resident Evil.