As Hollywood Actors Fear Studios Digitally Replicating Them With A.I., One MCU Project May Have Already Done It

 Vision looking directly at the camera in WandaVision
Vision looking directly at the camera in WandaVision
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The entertainment industry is currently at an impasse, with the WGA writers strike and SAG-AFTRA actors strike aiming to shift some of the power away from producers. Part of the struggle revolves around getting paid fairly for their achievements, rather than largely dealing with residual checks that amount to nothing. Another complicated piece of the puzzle is the concept of actors’ digital likenesses, and where lines should be drawn concerning how studios handle such replications of extras in Hollywood projects, and how much A.I. technology should be involved. A WandaVision background actor is now claiming that before such conversations started happening in earnest, she and others went through extensive body scans without being told what would happen to their digital forms.

Alexandria Rubalcaba spent four weeks working on the set of WandaVision as a background actor, at which point she and allegedly dozens of other performers were asked by the production crew to go to a nearby tractor trailer, where a complicated set of camera rigs were set up. Speaking with NPR, Rubalcaba said they were each told to stand in the middle of the cameras, which then scanned their faces and bodies for upwards of 15 minutes.

Can't Make This Stuff Up

Salma Hayek standing looking out in Black Mirror.
Salma Hayek standing looking out in Black Mirror.

Black Mirror Fans Have All The 'Joan Is Awful' Comments After Studios Tried To Get Actors To Give Away AI Likenesses For 'Eternity'

It wasn’t just standing, either, as the 47-year-old actress claims they were given various sets of directions for what to do with their hands and arms, and that they had to act out various emotions with their faces, such as fear and surprise. After all the instructions were handled, the extras’ digital avatars were then created from all the composite data, but that’s where the back-and-forth ended.

Alexandria Rubalcaba said no one was given any information about what would be done with the digital copies, as far as whether they’d be utilized for shots and scenes with WandaVision, or would be kept on a hard drive only to be pulled out for a completely unrelated project. There’s obviously also the possibility that nothing at all would be done with the replicas, as unlikely as that might seem, given all the trouble that went into getting it all on camera.

Whatever does happen, Rubalcaba said she never voiced any permission for Disney+ or otherwise to use her digital self in any projects, but doesn’t seem like she’d expect to hear from someone if and when her avatar would be used in other capacities, be it a fully human film production or A.I.-generated content. Given that she makes $187 a day as a background actor, per SAG-AFTRA rates, the idea of possibly missing out on jobs and residual payments from digital copy usage is directly tied to her making a living wage.

Just in case it wasn’t already clear, she doesn’t want any faked iterations of her physical look to be incorporated into any other projects without her knowledge. Here’s how she put it:

What if I don't want to be on MarioVision, or SarahVision? I fear that AI is eventually going to weed out background actors. They won't have any use for us anymore.

To be clear, the act of copying and saving someone’s digital likeness for film and TV (or video game) is nothing new, especially in the era of motion-capture technology. But the difference here is that while Lucasfilm is known to scan their actors for potential use in future projects, generally with the idea that they might be used to reference future iterations, such as Young Luke Skywalker’s return in The Mandalorian. But again, those instances and others (like the Lord of the Rings films) were more up front with the actors about how their likenesses would be used, and it wasn’t so much an issue of non-marquee performers having to worry about seeing uncanny-valley versions of themselves in projects they had nothing to do with.

As well, there are also those out there who do seem perfectly fine with selling their personal likeness rights so that future projects can use A.I. tricks to "cast" them in roles. Bruce Willis is one such adopter, having sold his rights to the company Deepcake. But will we see more of this happening in the MCU and beyond? With all the variants running around in Loki Season 2, we can only hope all of the actors who worked on the project were compensated accordingly.