Oct 10, 2019
The man who helped create Junior, the CGI-generated assassin, on how technology is changing film-making and why it deserves more respect.
Once Bill Westenhofer had footage from Paramount Pictures’ Gemini Man, the visual effects supervisor designed a challenge for Will Smith’s family. He showed them two clips featuring Smith: one from 1995’s Bad Boys and one from the upcoming Gemini Man. Westenhofer then asked the family to figure out which version was based on real footage.
They guessed wrong. Twice.
“They were tripping,” says Westenhofer, a two-time Oscar winner, one for 2012’s Life of Pi.
Gemini Man marks the first time a character has been entirely computer generated. The movie is about Henry Brogan, a 50-something elite assassin who is being hunted by Junior, a 23-year-old clone of Brogan. The script has been on hold for 20 years waiting for the technology to catch up to the idea.
Achieving the milestone required visual effects artists to reference footage of Smith from his younger days in The Fresh Prince. They also had Smith do “facial calisthenics” to create a database of his face and how his features look when responding to different scenarios.
Still, Westenhofer points out that Junior isn’t a carbon copy of the younger Smith audiences grew up watching. This version is an assassin so he’s more muscular and moves with greater efficiency.
Visual effects professionals have never been more in-demand in Hollywood, and digital “actors” have the potential to change the way stories are told. Westenhofer recently discussed the challenges facing his industry, the experts it takes to seamlessly integrate CGI into a film, and what viewers may expect in the future.
"It’s being able to create a completely digital person convincingly."
Visual Effects Supervisor, "Gemini Man"
"We’ve been de-aging actors for years during the editing process. And there have been attempts at creating a digital person that come close"