A Bruce Willis deepfake could appear in his stead for future film projects (updated)

It's a 'great opportunity to go back in time,' he said.

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Actor Bruce Willis attends the European premiere of "Glass" in London, Britain January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Henry Nicholls / reuters

Bruce Willis may have retired from acting following a diagnosis of aphasia, but a version of him will live on in future projects. Last year, the actor's "digital twin" appeared in an ad for a Russian telecom created by a company called Deepcake. According to The Telegraph, his digital likeness may appear in future film, advertising and other projects. 

Deepcake told The Hollywood Reporter that, despite reports to the contrary, Willis has not sold his likeness rights to the company. Its involvement with the retired actor "was set up through his representatives at CAA," according to the publication. A representative for the retired actor claimed that Willis "has no partnership or agreement with this Deepcake company.” 

Engineers created the digital double drawing from content in Die Hard and Fifth Element, when Willis was 32 and 42, respectively. With his likeness now on the company's AI platform, it can graft his likeness onto another actor's face in a relatively short amount of time. However, Willis's estate has final approval on any projects. 

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In the ad for Megafon, Willis's face was swapped onto actor Konstantin Solovyov. "I liked the precision of my character. It's a great opportunity for me to go back in time," Willis said in a statement on Deepcake. "With the advent of the modern technology, I could communicate, work and participate in filming, even being on another continent. It's a brand new and interesting experience for me, and I grateful to our team."

In March, Willis's family announced that he was retiring from acting to due a diagnosis of aphasia, which impairs communication and comprehension. In the last few years, the 67-year-old has appeared in a series of projects amid concern about his cognitive state.

Actors have already appeared as digital versions of themselves, notably in The Book of Boba Fett with a young Mark Hamill. Digital versions of Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing also appeared in Star Wars: Rogue One, despite the fact that both are deceased. James Earl Jones recently sold Disney the right to recreate his voice using AI, so he could retire. 

The practice has stoked controversy. Deepfakes vary widely in quality, but many approach the "uncanny valley" where characters don't look quite right because of stiff movements, dead eyes and other issues. There's also the question of rights, as deceased actors can't turn down posthumous film roles, even if the family or estate approves. 

Update 10/2 1:35PM ET: The Hollywood Reporter clarified that Willis did not sell his likeness rights to Deepcake. Rather, Deepcake says it "hired" a digital twin of the star. Willis or his estate will need to sign off on future use of his likeness.

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A Bruce Willis deepfake could appear in his stead for future film projects (updated)