According to reports from NPR, several background actors from this recent season of Disney’s WandaVision have shared stories about having their bodies and faces scanned for the creation of AI digital replicas — without their permission or consent.
As a core issue at the heart of the SAG-AFTRA strike, the potential use of artificial intelligence as a means to replace actors and performers (both background and leads) represents a huge threat and concern to the industry.
And while the strike started this summer, it’s of little surprise to learn that studios have been experimenting with digital scans and AI technology for the past several months (or possibly years). Including interviews with background actors who have shared their stories of having their likenesses scanned as recently as on the set of WandaVision season 2.
AI Replicas on WandaVision
From the interviews with NPR, a background actor named Alexandria Rubalcaba working on the Disney+ series during the pandemic was told to report to a trailer to be scanned by a series of cameras on metal rings behind glass.
“Have your hands out. Have your hands in. Look this way. Look that way. Let us see your scared face. Let us see your surprised face,” Rubalcaba recalls in the NPR interview. And she shares that dozens of other actors were brought in and told to stand for these recording sessions.
The thing is that none of the actors were told how and if these scans were going to be used or ever seen on screen. And there is no way for her to know if they do — much less receive payment.
Background Actors and AI
Like many background actors in the industry, Rubalcaba shares that she received the SAG-AFTRA union rate of $187 for her work that day. And she confirms to NPR that she never gave her permission for any digital replicas of herself to be used in any scenes.
NPR spoke with several other background actors with similar stories and concerns, all dating from a few years ago and leading up to the SAG-AFTRA stroke which started earlier this summer.
And while, as the article points out, scans and digital replicas have been used in film for some time for various crowd scenes, it’s really the rise of AI which looms as perhaps the greatest existential threat to the industry.
The Future of the Industry
Only time will tell where these two sides meet in terms of what AI technologies will be allowed or limited, yet for those background actors and performers working on any projects the concerns are very real and still ultimately not fully understood.
Will union officials be able to negotiate for specific pay rates for the allowing of digital replicas? What would that compensation even really look like? Will background acting become a lost form altogether?
We’ll have to wait and see, but with stories like these coming out more and more often, it’s crucial that these issues are resolved sooner rather than later. The future of the industry is at stake.