In case you ever wondered how Disney managed to de-age the voice of Luke Skywalker in the recent Star Wars spin offs, you'll be unsurprised to learn that an AI was involved. But while AI does much of the heavy lifting, it's the people behind this timbre tweaking droid that really deserve recognition.
In speaking to Respeecher CEO Alex Serdiuk, I learned that much of the voice conversion work for the Obi-Wan Kenobi series was delivered from sound engineer Bogdan Belyaev's hometown near Mariupol, Ukraine during Russia's initial invasion.
Bogdan is a long time Star Wars fan. He was over the moon when he was assigned to work on Mark Hamill's voice, only he found himself working through the sound of air raid sirens when Russia began its war on Ukraine.
"He is from those regions of Ukraine that's currently occupied by Russia. He has been relocated from there," Alex says. "[Bogdan] has been delivering work for Obi-Wan from bomb shelters when the full blown invasion started."
The Respeecher blog goes into more detail about the terror he had to endure, but it's this quote from Bogdan that really got me:
"About 80% of subsequent iterations from the conversion push were accompanied by an air alarm. But I understood that if I don't send them now, I might never send them."
It's uncanny, really, listening to Mark Hamill's voice from a bygone era spewing new, cheesy lines, but in the words of Master Qui-Gon, "The ability to speak does not make you intelligent." As such, the general rule is that AI itself cannot claim rights to the voices, or indeed hold patents since it doesn't legally count as an individual. And while the AI may not be able to claim rights to the work being done here (yet), in a big world of corporations small companies like Respeecher sometimes have to fight to have members of the team credited for their work.
"As a company we always should negotiate the publicity rights," Alex continues.
"We try our best to get as much of the publicity rights as possible, so in the case of the Star Wars projects we were credited as a company."
In a lot of Respeecher projects today, however, "there is not just a company credited, but particular people from our team who worked on that piece."
"We actually made it to the Emmy Awards. Once a person is credited, you are eligible for receiving an Emmy, and we have four Emmy statues in the office. That's really encouraging for the team when you have those shiny, shiny pieces."
Right now the team is working on a triple A video game—which they can't talk about, for obvious reasons—but when it comes out later this year you'll notice in the credits that "not just the company, but also a person from the team will be created there."
Alex is proud to see Respeecher standing with the 250 Ukrainian startups, zero of which have had to shut down due to Russia's invasion.
"Only 4% had to significantly reduce their business."
That's just an incredible feat considering the circumstances. So here's to all the badass Ukrainians out there working through the horrors of war. Whether you're working on nerdy cult classics like Star Wars or just generally keeping the country above water, the PC Gamer team salutes you.