Disney’s incredible new re-aging tech could turn back time on more Hollywood heroes

Disney's FRAN re-aging technology
(Image credit: Disney)

Re-aging technology is all the rage in Hollywood at the moment. In the past five years alone, actors including Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Chris Evans, Keanu Reeves, Mark Hamill, and Ewan McGregor have been subjected to various forms of age-altering digital wizardry in a range of big-budget films and TV series.

In most cases, these attempts to trick audiences into thinking said movie stars are significantly younger or older than their off-screen counterparts have come off as less-than-convincing at best and downright embarrassing at worst (looking at you, The Mandalorian), but evidence suggests that progress is being made. 

Harrison Ford’s upcoming turn as a 30-something Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones 5 looks, at least, like it’ll represent a watershed moment for the development of re-aging technology – and Disney, specifically, appears to be leading the charge on improving the quality of age-altered content.

Whether by chance or design, the good folks over at Disney’s visual effects division announced a major breakthrough in digital re-aging technology just one day before Lucasfilm pulled the pin on its first Indiana Jones 5 trailer. 

A de-aged Harrison Ford sits in a chair and stares at a bad guy off screen in Indiana Jones 5

A de-aged Harrison Ford appears in the first trailer for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Image credit: Lucasfilm)

In a new research paper, the entertainment giant heralds its proprietary Face Re-aging Network, or FRAN, as "the first practical, fully automatic and production-ready method for re-aging faces" – and what we’ve seen of the technology so far looks mightily impressive.

By using a program called StyleGAN2, which generates thousands of artificial faces to more accurately predict the changing appearance of the human face over long periods of time, FRAN does away with the costly and time-consuming need to collect data on these changes manually.

Disney's FRAN re-aging software in action

Disney's FRAN software generates artificial faces to predict the aging process (Image credit: Disney)

In other words, Disney’s visual effects division has developed an algorithm that tracks the aging process virtually in order to more effectively apply authentic physical alterations to real-life subjects. 

Take a look at FRAN in action via the demonstration video below, which was shared to Disney's DisneyResearchHub YouTube channel on November 30. 

Pretty amazing, right? Disney’s report claims that FRAN "provides artists with localized control and creative freedom to direct and fine-tune the re-aging effect," and the House of Mouse clearly considers the technology to be good enough for mainstream film and TV production.

By our eyes, at least, FRAN’s results are an improvement over almost all of the de-aging effects we’ve seen used in movies over the past few years – and it’s likely that the software behind it comes at a much, much smaller cost, too. 

That should come as great news for filmmakers, film studios, and film fans alike. Scorsese’s use of de-aging effects in his 2019 gangster epic The Irishman, for instance, reportedly ate up a huge chunk of the movie’s $159 million budget – a move that, by most accounts, was a waste of money given how inauthentic those effects turned out to be on screen.

But if movie studios can employ re-aging technology of the sort made possible by FRAN – as Lucasfilm looks to have done with Indiana Jones 5 – then we could see more and more aging Hollywood heroes turning back time on, well, time.  

Sure, nothing can last forever – but who doesn't want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger return as a prime-time Terminator for one last hurrah? 

Axel Metz
Senior Staff Writer

Axel is a London-based Senior Staff Writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest movies as part of the site's daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion. 

Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.