Digital David Beckham, Aged to His 70s, Created by VFX Shop Digital Domain

Malaria No More UK and David Beckham
Courtesy of Malaria No More UK

Thanks to cutting-edge digital trickery, David Beckham, 45, appears as his future self  in his 70s, in a new short titled "Malaria Must Die — So Millions can Live."

The digital Beckham was created by VFX house Digital Domain, whose pioneering work in digital humans, including aging and de-aging, won an Oscar for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and more recently was tapped to contribute its latest techniques to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: End Game.

The new short PSA was created by Ridley Scott Creative Group and Scott's RSA Films Amsterdam. It begins in the future with an aged Beckham delivering a speech on the day malaria has finally been defeated. As he speaks, he returns to his present-day self and make a plea for a malaria-free future.

To make the transformation, Digital Domain received clips of both Beckham and an older stand-in delivering the speech on a stage in a London theater. It then used its Charlatan face-swapping technology that applied machine learning and artificial intelligence to blend the nuance of the the two performances, without requiring a 3D scan of Beckham. Charlatan was developed by Digital Domain's in-house Digital Human research group.

The company explains that its artists then further defined key parts of the aging process, from hair to the skin, largely using compositing techniques. “As an artist, what you are really looking for is control. Details matter when it comes to faces, especially when your subject is known all over the world,” said Dan Bartolucci, VFX supervisor at Digital Domain.

This short PSA is the next phase of the global Malaria Must Die campaign from Malaria No More UK. According to the organization, progress to end the disease has stalled over recent years and countries need to maintain funding. It reported that two decades of action have shown that progress is possible, cutting deaths by more than 60 percent and saving more than 7 million lives since 2000. At the beginning of 2020 malaria mortality rates were at the lowest point ever, but the impact of COVID-19 on malaria responses may not be known for some time.

Said Beckham, a founding member of the Malaria No More UK leadership council, in a released statement: “I’ve worked with Malaria No More UK for over a decade and their campaigns always use great innovation and creativity to attract attention to the issue of this disease. It was really interesting working with the teams at Digital Domain and Ridley Scott Creative Group, using tech in a meaningful way to highlight and raise awareness for such an important cause.”

Beckham and Digital Domain also appear as part of a behind the scenes video.