How ‘Gemini Man’ Improved On ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ De-Aging

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story brought viewers back into the world of Star Wars: A New Hope. In that world, Peter Cushing was still alive and playing Grand Moff Tarkin, and a circa 1977 Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) escaped Darth Vader’s clutches. Now, Gemini Man gives viewers a 23-year-old Will Smith, whom his fans still remember as the young Fresh Prince. Read our review of the movie here.

Will Smith as Junior in Gemini Man
Will Smith as Junior in Gemini Man | Paramount Pictures

Smith plays Henry, a 51-year-old hit man who’s just done his last job, so he thinks. When Junior (Smith) shows up to kill him, Henry realizes he was cloned and his clone is now 23. Visual effects supervisors Bill Westenhofer and Weta’s Guy Williams explained how making Will Smith young again was far more complicated than the comparable effects in Rogue One. Gemini Man is in theaters Friday, October 11.

Why ‘Gemini Man’ had to surpass ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

When director Ang Lee approached Westenhofer and Weta about Gemini Man, their first step was to look at what had come before.

Will Smith as Junior in Gemini Man
Will Smith as Junior in Gemini Man | Paramount Pictures

“There’ve been some pretty close attempts in Rogue One and Blade Runner,” Westenhofer said. “We thought that things had matured. It was kind of similar to when I worked with him on Life of Pi. He came to me and said, ‘Can we do for a human what we did for the tiger?’ So we looked and said technology’s close enough.”

Junior had to do more in ‘Gemini Man’ than Tarkin or Leia

Star Wars fans were skeptical about the Peter Cushing effect, and the Leia effect was brief enough that it was mostly convincing. Junior is a main character in Gemini Man.

Clive Owen and Will Smith in Gemini Man
Clive Owen and Will Smith in Gemini Man | Paramount Pictures

“To really break this barrier, what we needed was a project that supported it,” Williams said. “The commitment not just to have a couple shots where you might have a guy doing something, but to truly have a digital human standing in front of camera acting and resonating with the audience and delivering the lines and serving the story, then this film was the perfect opportunity to actually be able to bring it all together.”

It’s still Will Smith playing Junior in ‘Gemini Man’

A lot is being made of how Will Smith looks like the Fresh Prince again, but that’s still Will Smith at 50 playing Junior. The visual effects artists make him look young, but he plays young.

“There is no magic button that we can push to say, ‘Make him look young,’” Westenhofer said. “He had to ingest that and be himself. We could put the look and make sure he looked like his 20-year-old self but the performance and the innocence had to come from him.”

Will Smith as Henry in Gemini Man
Will Smith as Henry in Gemini Man | Paramount Pictures

Williams added, “Even though there’s a 23-year-old Will Smith, the performance was not created in the computer. That’s the point of distinction that a lot of people just don’t remember is that every single take, we had Will act it out. So the performance comes from the actor. The digital creature, the digital character, the digital human does not replace the actor in that regard.”

Junior began as old Will Smith

In order to build Junior, they couldn’t just create a young Will Smith from the ground up. They had access to 50-year-old Will Smith though.

“Not being able to go back in time 30 years in the past and do everything we needed to do to acquire young Will, we start with current day Will,” Williams said. “So we build that digital human up to a certain spec and then we move from there to get to the young one.”

Young Will Smith won’t be taking anyone’s acting jobs just yet

Ever since Terminator 2 created the morphing T-1000, actors have worried that digital effects could replace them. The artists behind Gemini Man still say they shouldn’t worry.

Will Smith in Gemini Man
Will Smith in Gemini Man | Paramount Pictures

“We did this for a reason because we had old Will Smith in the same frame as young Will Smith so there was really no alternative,” Westenhofer said. “It’s still forever going to be better to use a real actor when you can. This just allows you to tell stories and do different things that wouldn’t be possible.”

There are digital old Will Smiths in ‘Gemini Man’ too

We know Junior is a special effect because we see Will Smith today. Gemini Man also used technology to put Will Smith into scenes as Henry, when it was too dangerous for him to act them out. 

Will Smith in Gemini Man
Will Smith in Gemini Man | Paramount Pictures

“What that allowed us to do with the fight scene that was kind of fun was we were able to say, ‘Don’t worry about how close you get to the stunt performer,’” Williams said. “I had them drive right up into camera and what we replace will become Will Smith. It just made for such an interesting stunt scene.”