When the release of the sequel for the 1986 hit Top Gun was announced, it seemed that the phrase “Second parts are never good” would have the opportunity to be applied once again in the history of Hollywood. Since it was certainly the chemistry between Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in their roles of Maverick and Iceman -two competing young naval aviators that end up forging a beautiful friendship- that had captivated audiences all around the world 36 years ago, producers of Top Gun: Maverick knew that if they wanted to match the success of the original film they needed to bring together again the two now sexagenarian actors.
Only, there was a problem that seemed very hard to solve. One of them (Kilmer), had been fighting throat cancer since 2014 and was, by the time production began, basically unable to speak.
AI and the recovering of a voice
In August 2021, Val Kilmer publicly announced that, with the help of a team of engineers from the innovative company Sonantic, an accurate model of the voice he had lost in his struggle with cancer had been created using AI and would feature in the upcoming Top Gun sequel.
The news immediately shocked the world – and especially Top Gun fans -, leaving everybody wondering how Kilmer and Sonantic managed to achieve this. First, the actor supplied the company with hours of archival footage of his voice. The engineers at Sonantic then used algorithms to turn them into more than 40 different voice models. Sonantic (now part of Spotify) describes this as a “voice engine” teaching the voice models how to speak like Val Kilmer. Finally, they chose the one that they considered not only of the highest quality but also the most expressive. The achievements in the Val Kilmer project will also be leveraged in the future. Sonantic’s CTO has declared that the new algorithms are now embedded in the company’s voice engine and that they will help their future clients recover their voices also.
In an inspiring video released by Sonantic, we can hear Val Kilmer’s AI-powered voice stating that the artist’s capacity to express his ideas and emotions through his voice was “never truly gone, just hiding away.”
Iceman, Princess Leia, and the future of entertainment
Hollywood movies such as The Congress, with Robin Wright, or Simone, with Al Pacino, have explored the effects that technological developments could have in the entertainment industry in the upcoming years. But most recently we have seen how these speculations crossed the borders of fiction, showing us the first steps of a path that leads to an increasing autonomy of the images and voices of artists from the actual physical conditions of their bodies.
Recently, Disney used CGI technologies to recreate the bodies of late actors Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing, demonstrating death is no longer an impediment to being part of the expanding Star Wars franchise. The shocking capacity of the technology that Sonantic developed with the help of AI to revive the lost voice of Val Kilmer may be an even wider window into the future of entertainment arts.