You may recall the controversy that erupted around the use of an AI voice model of Anthony Bourdain in the documentary “Roadrunner.” Well, now AI has replicated the voice of another icon, Val Kilmer.
But unlike the 45 seconds of audio footage of a digital Bourdain in “Roadrunner,” Kilmer himself worked with software company Sonantic to create an emotional and lifelike model of his old speaking voice, something he lost after undergoing treatment for throat cancer in 2014. And in a video touting the company’s tech you can hear above, Kilmer speaks about his “creative soul” that was always there, even though he previously couldn’t express himself. Turns out it actually sounds pretty convincing.
“People around me struggle to understand when I’m talking. But despite all that I still feel I’m the exact same person,” the AI Kilmer says in the clip. “Still the same creative soul. A soul that dreams ideas and stories confidently, but now I can express myself again, bring these ideas to you, and show you this part of myself once more. A part that was never truly gone. Just hiding away.”
The timing of the audio clip begs the question whether Kilmer’s new AI voice was used at all in the documentary just released about his life, “Val.” But several individuals with knowledge have told TheWrap that Kilmer’s AI voice model was not used in “Val,” and the project to create a voice model was conceptualized by Kilmer’s team, Amazon and Sonantic only after the film was completed. Rather, the film uses Kilmer’s son Jack Kilmer to recite some of the film’s narration, as well as Kilmer’s extensive home video library.
However, Kilmer worked closely in development of the AI prototype, supplying Sonantic with archival footage of his voice that was fed into the company’s algorithms and cleaned up to create the model. And there’s a chance that he could utilize it in the future both personally and professionally.
“I’m grateful to the entire team at Sonantic who masterfully restored my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible,” Val Kilmer said in a statement. “As human beings, the ability to communicate is the core of our existence and the side effects from throat cancer have made it difficult for others to understand me. The chance to narrate my story, in a voice that feels authentic and familiar, is an incredibly special gift.”
The CEO of Sonantic, Zeena Qureshi, spoke with TheWrap shortly after the “Roadrunner” controversy and explained that though they had not worked on the documentary, other documentary filmmakers and companies had approached them asking about AI voice models.
The Bourdain documentary “Roadrunner” was the subject of much discussion when its director Morgan Neville revealed that for 45 seconds and three separate instances of the film, the late chef’s voice was recreated using AI, including in one instance in which Bourdain briefly reads aloud an email that he sent to a friend. Bourdain’s widow at first said on Twitter that she did not OK the use of the AI model, which further fueled the controversy, but it was later clarified that Neville obtained the approval of Bourdain’s estate.
“Val” made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and dropped on Friday on Amazon Prime Video.