How AI ‘masterfully restored’ Top Gun star Val Kilmer’s voice

May 27, 2022, 1:16 PM UTC

Val Kilmer, who recently appeared in the Memorial Day smash hit Top Gun: Maverick, lost his voice to cancer in recent years—but artificial intelligence is helping him speak again.

Last year, scientists teamed up with the star, using A.I. to craft a computer-generated replica of the actor’s voice that could read his lines.  

Kilmer—who has appeared in films including Batman Forever, The Doors, and Heat—suffered irreparable damage to his voice after being diagnosed with throat cancer and undergoing a tracheotomy in 2014.

He later compared acting after the procedure to learning a new language in an interview with Good Morning America.

In August last year, London-based tech startup Sonantic teamed up with Kilmer to create an A.I.-powered voice for the actor.  

‘Eager to give him his voice back’

“From the beginning, our aim was to make a voice model that Val would be proud of,” John Flynn, CTO and co-founder of Sonantic, said in a blog post in August.

“We were eager to give him his voice back, providing a new tool for whatever creative projects are ahead.”

Kilmer said at the end of the project that Sonantic had “masterfully restored my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible.”

Sonantic uses A.I. to create computer-generated voices that are either completely synthetic or mimic the voice of a real person. Its voices have been used in video games, Hollywood sound production, and speech therapy.

The voice the company generated for Kilmer is entirely synthetic and mimics old recordings of the actor.

Kilmer recently reprised his role as ‘Iceman’ in the record-breaking Top Gun: Maverick.

The movie’s distributor, Paramount, told Fortune that A.I. had not been used in the production of the film, despite reports that the technology had been used to help him speak in the much-anticipated sequel to the 1986 classic.

Kilmer’s daughter, Mercedes—who reportedly watched him shoot his scenes on set—told Page Six before the film’s release that her father’s role in the new Top Gun movie was “very special.”

She told the publication: “They were able to dub him with his own voice, which is amazing. It’s such a technical feat, being able to engineer his voice that way, that it’s an extension of the technical feat of the film.”

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to correct initial reports that A.I. was used in Top Gun: Maverick to help Kilmer speak.

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