Val Kilmer Gets a New Synthetic Voice Replica from Sonantic
You may know that Val Kilmer lost his natural speaking voice due to throat cancer. The star of “Batman Forever,” “The Doors,” “Top Gun,” and other iconic films has a newly released documentary that delves into his life through personal video recordings he accumulated over a lifetime. It also shows him speaking through a stoma due to a tracheotomy that was necessary during his cancer treatment.
When asked during an interview on Good Morning America in 2020 what he missed about his voice, he answers, “That I had one! And that I didn’t laugh like a pirate.”
— Good Morning America (@GMA) April 21, 2020
Kilmer Gets a New Synthetic Voice
One big advantage Kilmer had is there are thousands of hours of his voice that were recorded before his surgeries. The team at Sonantic was able to take those recordings and create a high-fidelity synthetic version of Kilmer’s voice rendered via text-to-speech.
Reporting by Brian Welk at The Wrap says that Kilmer may use the voice in the future either personally or professionally. In a statement made to The Wrap Kilmer commented, “I’m grateful to the entire team at Sonantic who masterfully restored my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible. As human beings, the ability to communicate is the core of our existence and the side effects from throat cancer have made it difficult for others to understand me. The chance to narrate my story, in a voice that feels authentic and familiar, is an incredibly special gift.”
The report also says that Kilmer’s new synthetic voice was not used in the recent documentary, “Val.” His son Jack did, however, voice some of the narration. The idea for the synthetic voice recreation came after the production of “Val” was complete.
Val Kilmer’s voice clone timing is interesting given the recent controversy in the Anthony Bourdain documentary. Director Morgan Neville told The New Yorker that a synthetic speech clone was used in three different clips of the documentary. That 45 seconds of Bourdain’s voice clone raised some questions about deepfake technology and whether its use was authorized. The studio later revealed that Bourdain’s estate had authorized the move. With Kilmer, there is no such controversy. It is an opportunity for him to potentially regain a version of something that he thought was lost forever.
From Game Voices to Celebrity Replicas
Sonantic has thus far been know for developing hyper-realistic sounding voices for video games. The process uses recordings from voice actors to create synthetic text-to-speech voice engines that can read scripts from the games. The dashboard editor enables users to easily change speech inflection, speed, volume, and style. That includes the ability to replicate shouting or crying.
The company was founded in late 2018 and has set out to create the “Photoshop for voice.” Gaming was the first target market to be followed by work with professional actors to create faithful representations of their voices. The expected use is loaning out the voice clones in exchange for royalties or other fees. This is the process Sonantic uses today for the voices it creates from the recordings of voice-over actors. The London-based Sonantic closed a €2.3 million seed funding round in March 2020.