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.