Val Kilmer has had a very unique acting career. He's played the leading man in major hits such as "Batman Forever," "The Doors," and "The Saint" while also portraying memorable, scene-stealing character roles in "Tombstone," "Heat," and "Top Gun."
He also showed a flair for comedy with his performances in "Real Genius" and the Zucker Brothers' brilliant "Top Secret."
But his career as an actor all but ended in 2015 after he lost his voice after undergoing treatment for throat cancer. The treatments reduced his voice to a creaky rasp and he uses a feeding tube because he can no longer eat.
VAL - Official Trailer (2021) Val Kilmer Documentary www.youtube.com
Kilmer's struggles with life after his cancer treatment are documented in a moving new documentary "VAL" that follows his life through his personal home movie footage. The film shows how he's grown as a person and persevered after losing such a valuable part of his craft.
After the film was finished, Kilmer's representatives contacted Sonantic, an AI company, to see if they could digitally recreate the actor's voice. "So that's what we did," said Zeena Qureshi, CEO and co-founder of Sonantic. "Val's team wanted to give him his voice back so that he could continue creating."
In the past, vocal recreations such as those used by Stephen Hawking or Roger Ebert sounded more like robots than humans.
However, Sonantic's recreation of Kilmer's voice using old audio of him speaking pre-cancer treatment sounds like the actor we remember.
"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. "We were eager to give him his voice back, providing a new tool for whatever creative projects are ahead."
The company says that its engineers pulled audio of Kilmer speaking, cleaned it up, and removed any background noise. They then ran it through "voice engine" algorithms which learned how to speak in Kilmer's unique tone and rhythms.
The software is so sensitive that it can derive emotional patterns from the words to give them the proper inflection.
Take a listen:
Hear Val Kilmer's AI voice – Sonantic www.youtube.com
The great news for Kilmer is that he can use artificial intelligence to speak in a way that's familiar with his fans. "It's exclusively his model. He could use it for personal use or professional use if he wants to," Qureshi said.
"I'm grateful to the entire team at Sonantic who masterfully restored my voice in a way I've never imagined possible," Kilmer said in a statement. "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."
Kilmer's fans can look forward to him appearing in the long-awaited "Top Gun" sequel that's coming out in November. After he initially wasn't cast in the film, Kilmer made an impassioned plea to the film's producers and Tom Cruise to reprise his iconic role as Iceman.
"As the Temptations sang in the heydey of Motown soul, 'Ain't too proud to beg.' The producers went for it," Kilmer recalled in his memoir, "I'm Your Huckleberry." "Cruise went for it. Cruise couldn't have been cooler. ... Tom and I took up where we left off. The reunion felt great."
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