Art by Clark Miller.
Art by Clark Miller.

‘Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand’: Stars Are Quietly Inking Deals to License Their AI Doubles

As generative AI companies multiply, celebrities and their estates are starting to see the profit potential in digital twins.

Art by Clark Miller.
Aug. 18, 2023 9:00 AM PDT

In 2008, while working with Will Smith on the set of a film that never ended up getting made, Remington Scott had an epiphany. The visual effects director was watching Smith stand in a photogrammetry booth, with dozens of cameras capturing the actor’s facial features from every possible angle. “Every single major star on that level, they go in and they get scans,” Scott said. Visual effects artists then translate those 2D images into 3D computer-generated models that can later be manipulated for the purposes of the film. Watching Will Smith go through this process led Scott to wonder, “Why doesn’t he own his own scans?”

Short answer: because the studio, not the actor, paid for them. Like most stars, Smith likely signed a one-off agreement that allowed the production to use his photogrammetry scans in the context of his performance. If other actors agree to terms that aren’t so airtight, said Scott, “That’s, like, game over.” In that scenario, there would be no limit on how producers use those scans, whether for marketing, filmed backgrounds, other projects—really, anything. “Let’s just hope that those contracts are well done,” he said.

Scott—who has worked with directors including Peter Jackson, Zack Snyder and Robert Zemeckis and has scanned the likes of James Franco, Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins—launched his own “digital human” company, Hyperreal, in 2020. The idea was to give performers an opportunity to create and own the rights to their own digital identities, called Hypermodels, which they could then license to productions themselves for a fee. (Hyperreal takes a cut of that fee as the management platform for those assets.) The New York–based company has de-aged Paul McCartney for a music video and dropped TikTok-famous pop star Madison Beer into an immersive VR performance. The company is preparing to release its Hypermodel of soccer icon Pelé, who participated in the creation of his digital double in the months before his death last year.

Access on the go
View stories on our mobile app and tune into our weekly podcast.
Join live video Q&A’s
Deep-dive into topics like startups and autonomous vehicles with our top reporters and other executives.
Enjoy a clutter-free experience
Read without any banner ads.
OpenAI's Greg Brockman (left) and Google's Demis Hassabis (right). Photos by Getty.
AI Agenda google ai
OpenAI Hustles to Beat Google to Launch ‘Multimodal’ LLM
As fall approaches, Google and OpenAI are locked in a good ol’ fashioned software race, aiming to launch the next generation of large-language models: multimodal.
From left, a Google TPU, Broadcom CEO Hock Tan and Google Cloud chief Thomas Kurian. Photos via Getty, Google and YouTube.
Exclusive google semiconductors
To Reduce AI Costs, Google Wants to Ditch Broadcom as Its TPU Server Chip Supplier
Google executives have extensively discussed dropping Broadcom as a supplier of artificial intelligence chips as early as 2027, according to a person with direct knowledge of the effort.
Org Charts enterprise Finance
The People in Power at Tech Private Equity Juggernaut Thoma Bravo
Orlando Bravo may be the face of Thoma Bravo, but he’s not the only one calling the shots. The hard-charging, helicopter-riding managing partner has become the most recognizable person at the software-focused private equity firm.
Art by Clark Miller.
space Twitter
The Trouble With Walter: In His Elon Musk Tome, the Writer Shows Us the Perils of Access Journalism
Walter Isaacson is the exotic bird of American letters, a charming and convivial bon vivant and raconteur, the life of many a dinner party, a studious biographer and a generous mentor.
Gigafund co-founders Luke Nosek and Stephen Oskoui. Art by Clark Miller; Oskoui photo courtesy Gigafund.
The Big Read space entertainment
The Elon Musk Investors With Dreams of a New Social Order
In February 2021, a Mormon film producer named Jeffrey Harmon returned home to Provo, Utah, raving about an exclusive gathering he’d just attended in Austin, Tex.
Flexport founder Ryan Petersen. Photos via Getty and Flexport.
Can Ryan Petersen Fix Flexport?
Ryan Petersen was getting antsy. This March, Petersen had handed over the CEO job at Flexport—the logistics company he’d founded a decade earlier, which had ballooned to an $8 billion valuation in 2022—to veteran Amazon executive Dave Clark.