A Wonderful Afterlife? AI Recreates Jimmy Stewart’s Voice for Holiday Story

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A Wonderful Afterlife? AI Recreates Jimmy Stewart's Voice for Holiday Story
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This holiday season may be more relaxing than merry, with the iconic southern drawl of Jimmy Stewart returning in a new bedtime story for the Calm mental health app.

The late and legendary star of the holiday classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” is being brought back to life thanks to artificial intelligence. On Tuesday, in a deal with Beverly Hills-based CMG Worldwide, Calm announced that it is bringing Stewart back to narrate “It’s a Wonderful Sleep Story.”

Calling the story a tale of love, loss, and hope, Calm said “Calm users can drift off to sleep to the soothing, iconic voice of the late, beloved Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart.”

The collaboration was made possible using the generative AI-voice platform by Ukraine-based AI developer Respeecher.

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The family and estate of Jimmy Stewart, managed by CMG Worldwide, agreed to participate in the project. Other iconic “clients” of CMG Worldwide include Rebel Without a Cause stars James Dean and Natalie Wood, Bettie Page, Clark Gable, Christopher Reeves, Flip Wilson, and Hedy Lamarr.

“In all these cases, we work with each of these estates, and we determine with the use of the technology, what makes the most sense, and typically is a case-by-case conversation,” CMG vice president and CTO Travis Cloyd told Decrypt. “There are a lot of factors at stake: what are the platforms we’re working with? What’s the type of content somebody like Hedy Lamarr would say? Or what type of content would she be in? And then those decisions are made [by] the right stakeholders.”

A futurist and Senior Fellow at Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, Cloyd is also the CEO of CMG’s virtual reality division, CMG Worldwide XR. Cloyd noted the complexity of creating digital content of this nature, saying that the process varies based on the medium or experience requested, which could range from deep fakes or a 2D movie to immersive 3D experiences, based on the campaign’s objectives.

“Calm is an incredible platform and media company, and just like you pitch movies or documentaries to a platform like Netflix or Amazon, you have the opportunity to present content with recognizable voice synthesis—and Jimmy Stewart is a very recognizable voice,” Cloyd added.

Born in 1908, Stewart was known for his warm manner of speaking and for playing the “everyman” in films like Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), and Vertigo (1958). Stewart was also a military veteran, serving in the U.S. Army and Air Force. In 1959, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Stewart passed away in 1997.

“We are always exploring new technologies and new ways of continuing the legacies of every group that we work with,” Cloyd said. “Sometimes families in the estates have no interest in pursuing this type of tech or even using AI for anything, and sometimes families in the estates are very bullish on it.”

While Stewart’s return is credited to AI, Calm also features sleep stories by real and still-alive actors, including Matthew McConaughey, Peaky Blinders and Oppenheimer star Cillian Murphy, Star Trek’s Lavar Burton, Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo, and Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty star Idris Elba.

In October, Reespecher was engaged by Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Projekt Red (CDPR) to recreate the voice of Ripperdoc Viktor Vektor for Phantom Liberty after voice actor Miłogost “Milek” Reczek passed away in 2021.

As with Stewart’s voice, Reczek’s family permitted CDPR to use AI to bring the actor back to life for one more gig.

“Miłek’s sons were very supportive and gave us their permission to move forward with the project,” a CD Projekt Red representative previously told Decrypt.

Last month, the legendary rock band The Beatles released their “final song,” ‘Now and Then,’ which included the AI-generated voices and musical stylings of John Lennon and George Harrison along with the two surviving members of the band, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

While studios are turning to AI to bring deceased entertainers back from the dead, the reception has not always been positive.

In October, gamers protested the use of AI by Embark Studios, creators of the first-person shooter “The Finals.”

“The reason we go this route is that [text-to-speech] is finally extremely powerful,” Embark Studios’ audio director Andreas Almström said during an episode of the Meet the Makers podcast. “It gets us far enough in terms of quality and allows us to be extremely reactive to new ideas and keep things really fresh.”

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