Another Legend Brought Back To Life With Technology — This Time It’s Audrey Hepburn

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The late Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn personified grace and elegance, and today, her iconic status still carries on strong. With her panache and discerning tastes, she serves almost as an archetype of quirky style in modern culture. Naturally, anything that can be connected strongly with the film legend associates some of those same qualities to itself...even something as trite as chocolate.

That's right -- Galaxy (also known as Dove) has put out a commercial showing a virtual Hepburn in a 1960s Mediterranean backdrop enjoying a piece of chocolate. You have to see it to believe it:

As The Verge reported, the visual effects company Framestore developed the ad with AMV BBDO. Initially, the company planned to use a near perfect double for acting out the scene, then animate Hepburn's face over hers. Accomplishing this would require a 'facial action coding system' that could record over 70 possible muscle movements in order to build the digital model. This approach proved challenging, according to the company's website, simply because the unique behaviors of the film legend could not be authentically duplicated.

So the company opted to create a full CG version of the actress by pulling content from her film catalog as well as photographs of her. The result, though amazing, has moments of being ever so slightly off and those differences start to pull the digital Audrey toward the edge of the Uncanny Valley. Still, the amount of work that went into capturing her eyes and smile is impressive, and the ad is a great accomplishment in bringing digital versions of people who are no longer biologically alive.

This isn't the first time that the actress has been used in modern advertisement. In 2009, Gap released an ad for black pants showing Hepburn's notorious dance from the 1957 classic Funny Face. In 2011, Dior brought in brief digital versions of Hepburn along with Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, and other famous female stars to interact with Charlize Theron to sell perfume.

While digital representations are astonishing in their depictions of characteristics and nuances, the ultimate resurrection is certainly virtual, as was done with the holographic version of Tupac Shakur. But the virtual Tupac was an exceptional case, though similar to the technology that allows the fully virtual Japanese singer Hatsune Miku to perform.

Each time another deceased famous person is suddenly appearing in commercials, the digitalization of the self seems to be a big step closer. There is no doubt a long way to go yet before we could have a truly realistic version of a famous person on our computers. But multiple technologies are coming together to deliver all the components necessary to construct a digital person. In fact, in time there will likely be services that help capture as many physical nuances about a person before they die so that future generations can see that person as an avatar -- or at least their great children. In it's own way, it is a means of cheating death.

Videos like this point to a future where social interactions take place seamlessly between the living, the deceased, and the completely contrived. Will it matter? Probably not, especially if we're surrounded by legends of film.

David J. Hill

Managing Director, Digital Media at Singularity University
I've been writing for Singularity Hub since 2011 and have been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. My interests cover digital education, publishing, and media, but I'll always be a chemist at heart.

Discussion — 5 Responses

  • thomowen20 March 6, 2013 on 4:45 pm

    Hmmm, not even close! A lot of this has to do with imperfections. No person has skin that taut or unblemished. I KNOW they can do better texturing than this. The facial expressions were good, though.

  • Joe Nickence March 6, 2013 on 8:43 pm

    OMG. This could have been a cut scene from one of her movies! It’s perfect! After I picked my jaw up off the floor, my first thought was “I’ll buy two cases!” The uncanny valley? Nope. Not there. The FPS rate was mimicked at 24 instead of 30 or 60. The graininess covers any (well, most) imperfections. Very smart. Audrey Hepburn’s estate could easily authorize entire new movies starring her! Now THAT’s the scary part about the uncanny valley!

  • Improbus Liber March 7, 2013 on 11:42 am

    The first thing I thought of … in a few years they can make more seasons of the original Star Trek with virtual actors. Yes!!

    Also, there are a lot of books I would like to see turned into movies or TV shows. The future is bright for couch potatoes.

    • Ian Kidd Improbus Liber March 8, 2013 on 12:58 am

      I was thinking much the same thing (but with Doctor Who and Harry Potter).
      Of course, what this is missing is the voice. I don’t think they can computer generate an accurate vocal likeness as yet, can they?

      • Improbus Liber Ian Kidd March 8, 2013 on 12:16 pm

        I wouldn’t bet against it. If old movies and TV shows can be digitized I see no reason why the voices couldn’t be computer generated or a voice actor could voice the words and a computer could modify the sound so it matches the voice characteristics of the original actor.

        Of course you could also use a gifted human mimic (the job of the future until they to are replaced by computers). Is there anyone on this web site that doesn’t have their own William Shatner impression?