American acting royalty and octogenarian Harrison Ford has been de-aged in a sequence of the fifth instalment of the long-awaited Indiana Jones franchise.
He admits “it’s a little spooky” and doesn’t even really want to know how the Hollywood film studios are using the cutting edge CGI technology, just that it works.
It’s not the first time de-ageing has been used to help kick along a compelling storyline using the same actor (rather than opting for a lookalike).
Think Robert de Niro in The Irishman, Kurt Russell in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2, Samuel L Jackson in Captain America, and even Johnny Depp in his 2017 Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button? Or what about Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen in the fight scene in Obi-Wan Kenobi, who were de-aged 20 years?
In an exclusive interview with Empire magazine, Ford, 80 – who reappears one more time as the famous adventurer and archeologist 14 years after the last movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) – says he is a convert after coming face-to-face with his younger self.
“This is the first time I’ve seen it where I believe it,” says Ford, in the yet-to-be-titled film.
“It’s a little spooky. I don’t think I even want to know how it works, but it works.
“Doesn’t make me want to be young, though … I’m glad to have earned my age.”
Why was Indy aged?
Every Indiana Jones movie – with its premise of good verses evil – has a dramatic opening sequence, none more so than the first 12 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Arc in 1981.
For many movie critics – directed by Steven Spielberg and written and produced by George Lucas – it’s still possibly the greatest action movie opening of all time.
Set in 1936, a young Indy heads to a booby-trapped Peruvian temple to retrieve a golden fertility idol for his university and museum. On the way out, chased by a massive rolling boulder over his head, he survives and believes the relic is secured.
Rival French archaeologist Rene Belloq, who is on the Nazi payroll, suddenly appears, snatches it from Indi, who runs through the jungle and escapes on a snake-ridden sea-plane.
When taking over director duties on Indiana Jones 5, James Mangold had to come up with some big-time magic to entice audiences.
“I wanted the chance to dive into this kind of full-on George-and-Steven old picture and give the audience an adrenaline blast,” Mangold explains to Empire in a world exclusive edition.
His movie goes back towards “Raiders-era Indy”, set in 1944 in a castle full of Nazis.
Ford was hovering around 38-40 years old back then, so they needed to seriously de-age him.
The miracle of de-ageing technology: Empire
Empire explains that several techniques were used to pull the sequence off, “including new ILM [Industrial Light and Magic] software that trawled through archived material of the younger Harrison Ford before matching it to the freshly-shot footage”.
The original Raiders jacket was even pulled out of storage, and tried back on by Ford, before being replicated thread-for-thread, Empire wrote.
“My hope is that, although it will be talked about in terms of technology, you just watch it and go, ‘Oh my God, they just found footage. This was a thing they shot 40 years ago’”,” says producer Kathleen Kennedy.
“We’re dropping you into an adventure, something Indy is looking for, and instantly you have that feeling, ‘I’m in an Indiana Jones movie.’”
Other big-name stars de-aged, and for good reason
Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci were all de-aged in The Irishman to portray younger versions of mobsters Frank Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa and Russell Bufalino.
The crime epic ended up being one of the most expensive movies of director Martin Scorsese’s career, with a production budget of $159 million, reported Us Magazine last month.
Samuel L Jackson was de-aged in 2019’s Captain Marvel to look years younger for the film that takes place in 1995.
Insider reported Jackson’s look was one of the toughest to nail because he appears in so much of the superhero movie, with the VFX team referencing Jackson’s movies made in the 1990s, including The Negotiator and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
“It was actually a big challenge to get him 25 years younger and look the way that he did,” Marvel visual effects supervisor Janelle Croshaw Ralla told Insider.
There was also Michelle Pfeiffer in the Ant-Man and the Wasp in 2018 and Robert Downey Junior looked like he did in the 1980s for a pivotal scene as Tony Stark in the 2016 blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War.
Empire reports the storyline is set against a backdrop of the space race, and the American effort to beat the Russians to the moon.
Whatever the holy grail Indy is desperate to get his hands on, and however many action sequences and visual effects employed – including a thriller at the Apollo 11 ticker tape parade in New York in 1969 – one thing is for certain.
“The challenge of creating compelling and believable digital humans is really the holy grail of visual effects,” says ILM associate VFX supervisor Ivan Busquets.
Indiana Jones 5 is scheduled for release on June 30, 2023.