The newest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is full of spectacular visuals. There are ghost sharks, a ship that eats other ships, and Javier Bardem's perpetually ocean-kissed hair. But what stands out above all of them is the appearance of a young Johnny Depp in Pirates 5. There's a flashback scene in the film which tells the backstory of Jack Sparrow and Javier Bardem's Captain Salazar, and in it, Depp looks about 25 years younger. But how on Earth did the filmmakers pull off this effect?
The effect, performed here and most often by Lola VFX, is commonly referred to as digitally de-aging, and it's been around for over a decade, having been used in films like 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand and 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The way it works is by giving the actor a "CGI facelift." The actor performs the role as they normally would, and then afterward, their appearance is painstaking digitally altered to appear younger. Also involved in the process is a similar-looking young actor, who acts out the same scene and has parts of his skin digitally fused onto the actor. In Pirates 5, that actor was Anthony De La Torre. And while the effect is becoming more commonplace and has been used by a number of films, Disney is really pioneering its use in recent years more than other studios, as you can see in the examples below.
Tron: Legacy (2010)
In this film, Disney used a different process to de-age Jeff Bridges. They had the actor perform the role via motion capture, and then created a fully CGI replica. As you can see, the effect is not as convincing and the company would improve its technique in subsequent years.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Here, instead of digitally de-aging Hayley Atwell, she was digitally aged to appear much older. This was done by digitally laying some of an elderly actress's features over Atwell's face.
Michael Douglas was a famous actor in the '80s, so when this film de-aged him to appear as he did in 1989, they really had to get the look right. I'd say they succeeded.
Captain America: Civil War (2015)
Robert Downey Jr. was also famous when he was younger, but Lola and Marvel were once again up to the task of de-aging him to appear as he did when he was a member of the Brat Pack.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Disney returned to motion capture and full-CGI recreation to make their young Princess Leia rather than relying on Carrie Fisher performing the role and digitally altering her face. It's not quite as convincing as Lola's technique, but it still shows that in just six years since Tron: Legacy, this technology has also grown by leaps and bounds.
Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2 (2017)
It was just a couple weeks ago when everyone was raving about young Kurt Russell, whose look was again accomplished by Lola's de-aging technique, which makes me believe this effect is going to become so normalized that fans eventually won't even notice it.