How Val Kilmer’s voice was recreated using artificial intelligence for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

Actor Val Kilmer attends the "Fourth Dimension" premiere during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival at the AMC Lowes Village on April 24, 2012 in New York City.
Photo credit Getty Images

“Top Gun: Maverick,” the long-awaited sequel to the iconic 1986 film, has taken off far faster and higher than even old fans might’ve expected. It hit a $160.5 million four-day gross right out of the gate when it premiered last weekend.

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One of the reasons for the success of the Tom Cruise film is the nostalgia of seeing stars from the original hit movie – and in the case of Val Kilmer, also getting to hearing them.

As Kilmer so bravely detailed in his 2021 documentary, “Val,” the actor was diagnosed with throat cancer, and has since suffered irreparable throat damage after undergoing a tracheotomy in 2014. He did not reveal his diagnosis until 2017.

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"Top Gun" star Tom Cruise has always been adamant Kilmer’s participation in the sequel was crucial – as the relationship between their characters was central to the first movie – so the film's producers employed scientists at London-based tech startup, Sonantic, to craft a computer-generated replica of the 62-year-old actor’s voice to deliver his lines.

As Fortune reported, Sonantic then teamed up with Kilmer to create the A.I.-powered voice used in the film.

“From the beginning,” said John Flynn, CTO and cofounder of Sonantic, “our aim was to make a voice model that Val would be proud of. We were eager to give him his voice back, providing a new tool for whatever creative projects are ahead.”

The company creates voices that either mimic the human voice or are completely synthetic. For “Maverick,” they used old recordings of Kilmer’s voice to create a completely synthetic voice.

Kilmer himself was extremely satisfied with the results, exclaiming that Sonantic had “masterfully restored my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible.”

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“As human beings, the ability to communicate is the core of our existence," Kilmer added, "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's work has been utilized in other Hollywood productions, as well as video games and speech therapy.

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