This British start-up gave Val Kilmer his voice back

August 26, 2021

A British AI company has recreated Hollywood actor Val Kilmer’s voice – with amazingly realistic results.  London-based firm Sonantic used the actor’s voice recordings from throughout his career, which were fed to their AI to create the lifelike yet artificial mock-up.   Film producers could potentially use the tool – described as ‘Photoshop for voice’ – for voiceovers if they have a role in mind that would be suited to Kilmer’s tones.

Kilmer, whose career has spanned nearly four decades, has starred in blockbusters such as Top Gun, Willow, The Doors, Tombstone and Batman Forever.  But after undergoing a tracheotomy in 2014 as part of his treatment for throat cancer, Kilmer’s voice is now barely recognisable.

On Sonantic’s side, the firm is mostly used to working with video game studios like Obsidian, Embark, Sumo Digital to record dialogue for their characters.

Flynn told MailOnline his firm were approached by Kilmer’s team late last year as they were creating the Amazon Prime documentary, Val.

‘We all came together – Val as someone who’d lost their voice and Sonantic as a company who creates best in class quality voices,’ he said.

For the project, Sonantic gathered audio recordings of the actor from his films, which were digitally ‘cleaned’ to remove background noise.  Next, the experts generated transcripts from the audio before pairing the audio and text together in short chunks that could be fed to the AI during its training.

The firm generated more than 40 different voice models and selected the ‘most expressive one’, said CTO John Flynn.

Kilmer can use the tool in his personal life, to help him communicate, by inputting new sentences for the AI to say.

‘As human beings, the ability to communicate is the core of our existence and the effects from throat cancer have made it difficult for others to understand me.  ‘The chance to tell my story, in a voice that feels authentic and familiar, is an incredibly special gift.’

Sonantic CTO and co-founder John Flynn described the ambitious project in a blog post on his company’s website.

‘There was lots of brainstorming around how we could work together and what we could do – poetry, interactive games, other promotional material for films he might be involved with.  But it always came back to the fact we wanted to give him something for his craft, something that had flexibility to enable him to create moving forward, so we ended up creating a voice model for him.’

by Anil George
Avid follower of all things tech. In between his quest for the ultimate gizmo, Anil fiddles with light meters, collects rare books and feeds his fetish for Jap horror movies. As Managing Editor of T3 Middle East for the GCC, Anil oversees content direction across print and digital. He was a CES 2020 Innovation Awards Judge, reprising his role as an Innovation Awards Judge at CES 2018, CES 2017, 2016 and 2015. Anil is also the Middle East's first Brand Ambassador for Ashdown Engineering. Reach him at: editor@t3me.com.