There are few movie franchises as iconic as George Lucas’ Star Wars, and even fewer villains as infamous as Darth Vader. In the original Start Wars trilogy, Vader was portrayed in costume by David Prowse. However, the voice of Vader that struck fear into moviegoers across the galaxy was voiced by James Earl Jones. In recent Star Wars films and TV series, Jones has continued to voice Vader. In September of 2022, now 91 years old, Jones retired from the role of voicing Darth Vader.
Fortunately for Star Wars fans, Disney has no plans of slowing down when it comes to using Vader across productions. This begs the question, who will be the new voice of Vader? The answer – Respeecher.
Respeecher is a Ukrainian company that generates speech-to-speech machine learning models with the recordings of actors who will no longer play a role. In contrast to text-to-speech technologies, speech-to-speech voice conversion is able to produce more dynamic and emotion-laden output which is more effective at recreating human speech.
Respeecher was first used by Disney to play the voice of Vader in the 2022 TV series Obi-Wan Kenobi. The use of Respeecher served as a confirmation that moving forward Vader’s voice would be rendered by AI. Whether the use of AI as the voice for Vader was a success is up for debate, but you can judge for yourself in this compilation of Vader scenes from Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Interestingly, Disney did not use Jones’ current voice when using Respeecher to generate Vader’s voice – Disney used Jones’ voice from the ’70s and ’80s when the original Star Wars trilogy was produced. This opens a series of questions – What will happen when a character ages? Can the voice of a character from one project be used in an entirely different project? What recourse will actors have if their voice synthesis files leak? Until these situations arise, these questions will remain unanswered.
The use of AI in film, and the use of Respeecher and other similar technologies will be interesting to track. Disney has always been a leader and an innovator in the film industry when it comes to the use of new technologies in production, and all signs point towards Disney continuing to be a ground breaker.
Author: Cole Brown, 2022/2023 Articling Student-at-Law
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