Actors who needed to be digitally edited

Filmmakers today can bring just about anything realistically to life using state of the art digital effects. Whether it's exploding space stations or giant transforming robots, if you can imagine it — and spare a couple hundred million to fund it — the movie industry can put it up on the big screen. But even though it's great for bringing the most fantastical creations convincingly to theaters, this technology can also be used for decidedly more mundane purposes — like making an actor's body parts look bigger or erasing embarrassing tattoos so they don't appear in topless scenes. Between all the obviously spectacular computer-derived spectacle, the movie industry's top effects animators are often hard at work adding and subtracting elements that, although they may never be noticed by most filmgoers, can be just as important to the final product. Here's a look at some actors whose real-life features had to be digitally altered for the movies.

Wesley Snipes - Blade: Trinity

Blade: Trinity was nearly derailed by a feud between actor Wesley Snipes and director David S. Goyer. According to Patton Oswalt, who had a role in the film, Snipes and Goyer would frequently have heated arguments—and Snipes even attempted to strangle Goyer. This eventually resulted in Snipes only communicating via Post-It notes left around the set, all of which he helpfully and adorably signed "From Blade."

Goyer, not wanting to deal with Snipes, attempted to film as many of his scenes as possible using stand-ins. Snipes responded to this slight by intentionally ruining scenes. The most hilarious example occurred when Goyer asked Snipes to open his eyes for a dramatic shot of him waking up in the film's climax, and Snipes absolutely refused. Rather than pressing Snipes to do his job, Goyer simply had the effects department CGI some eyes onto Snipes' uncooperative face.

Dakota Johnson - Fifty Shades of Grey

Whenever you see a nude scene in a movie, there's a good chance that nobody on set ever really got naked. Often, actors wear flesh-colored underwear, and for most movies this is enough, because sex scenes don't really factor into the plot. Not true for the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. The sex scenes are the plot, which posed a unique problem for the effects department.

Specifically because it showed more skin than most other films do, a decision needed to be made about whether or not Dakota Johnson's character, Anastasia Steele, had a personal grooming routine. Apparently she didn't, because a digital effects artist had to go in during post-production and use CGI to give Johnson a tasteful tuft of pubic hair after using digital effects to remove the flesh-colored covering protecting her dignity. Cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey would later refer to this as one of the most surreal moments of his entire career—closely followed by overseeing the hiring process of a suitable butt double for Johnson.

Nicolas Cage - Ghost Rider

Nicolas Cage loves him some comic books. His son Kal-El is named after Superman, he changed his own last name early in his career from Coppola to Cage as a nod to the Marvel character Luke Cage, and he even has a large tattoo of the Ghost Rider on his arm. This latter tribute proved to be a problem when Cage was set to star in the 2007 Ghost Rider film, because, well, it would have been kind of weird for Johnny Blaze to have a tattoo of his own superhero alter ego on his bicep.

So the decision was made to use "the magic of special effects" to hide the offending tattoo whenever Cage needed to take off his shirt. A persistent rumor surrounding the movie suggests that Cage's abs were also created using the magic of CGI; however, his Ghost Rider co-star Eva Mendes has confirmed that they were, in fact, 100 percent real.

Kristian Nairn - Game of Thrones

There's a scene in the first season of Game of Thrones when the character Hodor, played by actor Kristian Nairn, gets naked—revealing the giant character's suitably plus-sized penis.

To achieve the illusion, Nairn was asked to wear a realistic-looking 16-inch prosthetic that was attached to his groin using glue. The effects department then blended the whole thing to his own body using digital effects, airbrushing out a special thong Nairn was wearing beneath the whole get-up. According to Nairn, this thong shielded his actual penis from view so well that one of his co-stars let out an audible gasp when she saw the giant prosthetic for the first time and asked if it was real. Nairn's response? "Luckily, no."

The actor also noted that the effects department made two different prosthetic penises and he got to pick which one to wear based on how well he felt it suited him. Knowing this, you have to assume that Nairn's response was to silently point to the larger fake penis and nod slowly.

Paul Reubens - Pee-Wee's Big Holiday

If you happened to catch Pee-Wee's Big Holiday on Netflix, you may have noticed that actor Paul Reubens looked surprisingly spry and youthful for a 60-something-year-old man. To give the impression that Reubens hadn't aged since his last TV appearance as the character, CGI provided by Vitality Visual FX was used in tandem with make-up, lighting and sticky tape to de-age the actor. That last part isn't a joke, by the way—they literally used tape to pull back Reubens' face for some scenes to make his skin look smoother. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best ones. 

Reubens, to his credit, was surprisingly open about the use of CGI to remove his wrinkles, admitting that Pee-Wee simply wouldn't work "with age mixed into it" and quipping, "I could have had a facelift and we would have saved two million dollars."

Billy Crudup - Watchmen

The character Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen was physically portrayed by actor Billy Crudup and fitness model Greg Plitt, with the former providing Manhattan's face and the latter his Adonis-like physique. What isn't clear, however, is which man served as the basis for Manhattan's glowing blue radioactive penis.

According to Crudup, he filmed a lot of his scenes in the nude, so—as he put it—"if you see anything, it was totally me." This is somewhat at odds with the fact that we know the basis of Manhattan's physique was provided by another actor—and a statement made by director Zack Snyder, who sheepishly admitted that his team adjusted the size of Dr Manhattan's member in post-production to make it fittingly large for a being who could extinguish all of reality. That's a lot of work for genitalia, but Snyder felt the penis was so important to the movie that he added more shots to the director's cut.

The cast of Glee

The hit musical dramedy Glee continued the longstanding Hollywood tradition of hiring older actors to play teenagers—and although none of the actors playing high schoolers on the show were the age they were supposed to be, they still apparently suffered from a fairly common affliction that plagues all young people: acne.

This didn't sit well with the producers, who paid an unnamed visual effects company to do what was dubbed "a pimple pass" on most episodes to ensure every actor's skin was blemish-free. Because if there's anything that's going to make a show relatable to young people, it's flawless-looking actors with perfect skin complaining about being unattractive.

Henry Cavill - Justice League

The team behind Justice League ended up using the same technology used to create King Kong, Godzilla, and Optimus Prime to remove a mustache from Henry Cavill's face—something that could have just as easily been accomplished with a five-dollar razor from a gas station, if it weren't for the fact that Cavill was contractually obligated to not shave it off until filming for the next Mission: Impossible movie wrapped.

Because of this scheduling snafu, when director Joss Whedon was brought on by DC and Warner Bros to take over the movie for a sidelined Zack Snyder in June of 2017, he found himself in an awkward situation for reshoots. Because the reshoots couldn't really be postponed, Warners told Whedon to film the scenes anyway, and use CGI to remove the facial hair in post-production.

Scarlett Johansson - Ghost in the Shell

The live-action Ghost in the Shell adaptation caused quite a stir when it was revealed that Scarlett Johansson would be portraying protagonist Motoko Kusanagi—a character who's Japanese in the source material.

Although some Japanese fans and the director of the 1995 anime adaptation saw no problem with Johansson's casting, it still drew accusations of whitewashing—something the filmmakers made worse when it was revealed that they'd toyed with the idea of making actors look more Asian by using CGI to "shift [their] ethnicity." They might have caused less controversy if they'd just said they were going to give Johansson buckteeth and ask her to talk like Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's 

After word leaked, a statement was quickly issued stating that even though they absolutely did toy with the idea of using CGI to make a character look more Asian, they never went ahead with it. It's nice that more sensible heads eventually prevailed, but still—that's pretty bad.

Jessica Alba - Machete

Jessica Alba resolved long ago to not take off her clothes for a movie. "I can act sexy and wear sexy clothes, but I can't go naked," she told Scarlet magazine in 2010. She talked about how the notion went against her Catholic upbringing. "My grandmother would freak out and throw a towel over me if she saw me wearing just a bra and panties…I can handle being sexy with clothes on but not with them off."

Anyone who watched 2010's Machete after reading the article in Scarlet was likely surprised when Alba appeared to be nude during a shower scene — key word "appeared": In reality, Alba was clothed, her garments digitally replaced in post-production with computer-generated skin. 

When news of the digital trickery broke, it sparked a debate about whether using digital nudity hurt a film's integrity. Producer Germain Lussier was one of the loudest voices questioning the practice, noting, "There's a huge difference between acting naked and just being naked."

Claire Danes - Homeland

When a regular for a hit show gets pregnant, sometimes creators write the pregnancy into the story. But when Claire Danes announced she was expecting her first child in 2012, she assured fans her Homeland character Carrie Mathison would remain "fervently non-pregnant" for the second season. 

Danes' work continued as late as six weeks before she gave birth. Her baby bump was digitally erased post-production, and body doubles were also used to help with the subterfuge. It wouldn't be the last time Homeland used these strategies to keep a pregnancy out of the story — the following year, they used similar techniques on Morena Baccarin. 

Danes' pregnancy certainly didn't make things any easier for her. During a roundtable organized by The Hollywood Reporter, she said, "At one point we were shooting in an old sewage factory. I was kidnapped, I was chained to a pipe, it was 4 a.m. I was seven and a half months pregnant, and I was like, 'This sucks.'"

Chris Evans - Captain America: The First Avenger

The stark contrast between Captain America and the Steve Rogers who preceded him in 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger remains one of Marvel's most startling and impressive CGI effects. 

No single technique was used to create the smaller and skinnier pre-experiment Steve Rogers. Marvel hired Lola Visual Effects, and supervisor Edson Williams told Variety that digitally attaching Evans' face and/or head to a body double was only used for 15 percent of the shots. For the rest, Lola digitally shrunk Evans' face and body. The process involved shooting everything at least three times: Once with Evans, once with Evans' smaller body double Leander Deeny, and one "clean shot" without Evans or Deeny.

Williams said "by far the most challenging part" of the process was caused by Evans' massive arms. When shot in profile, they blocked "as much as one third of his body," so the fabric of Evans' shirts would need to be digitally erased and replaced with something else.

Guy Henry & Ingvild Deila - Rogue One

The filmmakers of Rogue One faced particularly tough challenges — they needed Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia Organa. Peter Cushing, who played Tarkin in Star Wars, died in 1994; Carrie Fisher, who portrayed Princess Leia, was still alive during the making of Rogue One, but looked and sounded nothing like she had in 1977. Thus, Tarkin and Leia were digitally recreated. 

For principal photography, Tarkin was played by British actor Guy Henry, who wore a motion-capture headpiece. John Knoll, chief creative officer at Industrial Light & Magic, told the New York Times the filmmakers had back-up plans in case their digital Tarkin didn't make the grade, admitting, "We did talk about Tarkin participating in conversations via hologram, or transferring that dialogue to other characters."

Not quite so much work was needed for the digital rebirth of Princess Leia. When seen from behind, she's fully Norwegian actress Ingvild Delia. From the front, what you see is almost entirely a digital creation, though Leia's outstretched hand is Delia's.

Orlando Bloom - The Hobbit series

J.R.R. Tolkien didn't write Legolas into The Hobbit, but Peter Jackson did when he turned the novel into a trilogy of films. Announcing the return of Orlando Bloom to the role he'd played in Jackson's Lord of the Rings adaptations, Jackson joked, "I look older — and he doesn't! I guess that's why he makes such a wonderful elf." Bloom might not have looked older, but the events of The Hobbit take place over half a century before the events of Lord of the Rings, so "not looking older" wasn't enough. 

Bloom doesn't look dramatically younger in the Hobbit films, but a blue glow was added to his eyes along with an ethereal aura around his face. Elves are supposed to be ageless so it hardly matters, but it's interesting to note that filmmakers had at least one other reason to de-age Bloom. While Lee Pace played Bloom's father Thranduil, Orlando Bloom is actually two years older than Pace. 

Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellen - X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand proved opens with Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) in an early attempt to recruit Jean Grey into Xavier's school for mutants. The flashback sequence takes place around 25 years before the events of the rest of the film, but rather than using make-up or prosthetics, special motion capture apparatus, or a different shooting method, the sequence was shot as if no changes were going to be made to it at all. 

"We didn't limit the actors' motion, blocking, expressions, or anything," Greg Strauss, co-founder of Lola Visual Effects, told CGW. "They did everything in-camera the way they wanted." 

Lola used a process called digital skin grafting to rejuvenate Stewart and McKellen, utilizing old photographs for reference as well as consulting with a plastic surgeon to learn the specifics of how skin changes as people age. 

Michael Douglas - Ant-Man

Ant-Man opens with a flashback from 1989 that shows the Triskelion — the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters destroyed at the end of the previous year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier — still under construction, along with a Michael Douglas who looks more like Wall Street's Gordon Gekko than the Hank Pym appearing later in the 2015 film. 

Once again — just as with Captain America: The First Avenger and X-Men: The Last Stand – the filmmakers turned to Lola Visual Effects to give them a Michael Douglas who looked more Fatal Attraction than Ant-Man. Lola advised Marvel against using any of the usual de-aging make-up because it would play havoc with the lighting, and asked for a younger stand-in on set as a reference point. 

When Lola's Trent Claus spoke to Vulture, he said Douglas' extensive body of work gave them plenty of references for the flashback sequence, but it was a double edged sword. "It helped us a lot," Claus said, "but it made us work harder, because the audience already knew what he looked like at that age. There wasn't a whole lot of leeway."

Kurt Russell - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens on Earth decades in the past, depicting a Kurt Russell who could've just finished filming Big Trouble in Little China. But there seems to be a little disagreement regarding how his onscreen rejuvenation was achieved. 

When CinemaBlend spoke to Russell, he said it was "about 90%" make-up and said he's been working with the same make-up artist since 1989. "It's amazing what he could do and what we could do with a wig." 

But in the comments section of a video he posted on Facebook, writer-director James Gunn wrote, "A company named Lola did the effects, and they did an incredible job. First we film every scene with Kurt. A young actor, Aaron Schwarz…watches everything [Kurt Russell] does. He then goes in and mimics Kurt's actions. We then take Kurt's acting and general face and body and place Aaron's skin onto him. It is a long, painstaking process that took many, many months to accomplish."

Which sounds just a little bit more involved.

Robert Downey Jr. - Captain America: Civil War

An early scene in Captain America: Civil War opens to what appears to be a flashback showing a young Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) with his parents Howard (John Slattery) and Maria (Hope Davis). We eventually learn we're seeing Stark's memories as they're translated through a device he's developed. 

Marvel Studios called on Lola Visual Effects to take 20-25 years off Downey. The scene presented one of the toughest challenges Lola's had to tackle while working with Marvel because the entire sequence was filmed in a single shot. 

"The shot was nearly 4,000 frames long," Trent Claus, Lola's visual effects supervisor, told The Hollywood Reporter, "with Tony Stark turning from one side to the other multiple times, physically interacting with other actors, and the set itself, and moving closer to the camera for a very long, uninterrupted close-up." Claus went on to say analyzing footage from Downey's late '80s film work was essential in achieving the effect, and singled out 1987's Less Than Zero as a focal point.

Ed Helms - The Hangover Part II

Ed Helms almost needed to be digitally edited for The Hangover Part II, but it wasn't to make him look younger or older. In the movie, his character wakes to learn he's been tattooed with a replica of Mike Tyson's signature face ink. A month before the film's release, tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill — the designer of Tyson's tattoo — tried to stop Warner Bros. from releasing the film or using the tattoo in Hangover Part II's marketing, citing "reckless copyright infringement." Though he failed initially, Whitmill continued his legal battle after the film's release. 

In a brief to the court, Warner Bros. said further deliberation wouldn't be necessary because they planned to erase the problem. Literally: "If the parties are unable to resolve their dispute," they wrote, "Warner Bros. will digitally alter the film to substitute a different tattoo on Ed Helms's face."

Thankfully for Hangover fans, a settlement was reached, and when The Hangover Part II was released for home viewing, the tattoo remained intact.