Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s Kurt Russell wowed audiences when he revealed that the younger look he sported in flashback scenes was largely thanks to make-up, not visual effects. However, it took a lot more than some concealer and a wig to make Ego the Living Planet look 30 years younger.
In an interview with Yahoo! Movies, visual effects supervisor Chris Townsend shared that Russell’s final de-aged look for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was only about 20-per cent makeup and the rest was thanks to digital effects. This contradicts Russell, who previously told outlets such as IGN they’d hardly used any CGI to alter his face after shooting the scenes.
“[A visual effects staffer] said, ‘What do you think of what we did to you?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s my understanding that you guys didn’t have to do a whole lot. It was pretty much what we shot live touched up.’ She said, ‘That’s true,'” Russell told Vanity Fair in May.
Townsend said the visual effects department went to Russell and his makeup artist Dennis Liddiard and asked them to make him look “as young as possible” for the scenes. They put mapping dots on his face so they could alter his face digitally. Then all of Russell’s scenes were filmed twice, first with Russell himself, and then with a 30-year-old actor named Aaron Schwartz, who served as Russell’s face double. Townsend said it took hours of work to get the job done.
It’s literally doing digital plastic surgery: getting a nip and a tuck, and reducing the size of the pores and smoothing out the wrinkles and tightening up the skin. And where you can’t take the original photography and manipulate it, you then have to go back to the picture double and literally skin-graft parts of his face onto the main actor. So the make-up that was done on set was great, but it got you 20 per cent of the way there, and then we had to do an awful lot of work digitally to make it a final image.
Even though the illusion was more virtual than cosmetic, they still did an impressive job of making Russell look younger for the part, even if the technology can verge into uncanny valley territory when done for too long or too often. Townsend does think the industry is on the verge of doing de-ageing effects for longer than small flashbacks, so long as it isn’t too expensive. So great news, (mostly male) actors, now you’ll never have to die.