The Droids You’re Looking For: How Ukrainian AI Recreated Darth Vader’s Voice | Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Kyiv-developed artificial intelligence takes over one of cinema’s most treasured roles, as James Earl Jones steps back as the voice of Darth Vader.

The 91-year-old Star Wars actor was helped to the chilling heights of his performance 45 years ago by Ukrainian startup Respeecher in the recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series as the company worked with Jones and snippets of its past performance.

The AI ​​”clone” of his voice could then be layered over lines read by another actor to create a Darth Vader that sounds more real than reality.

James Earl Jones with Darth Vader in 2002 at the premiere of The Attack of the Clones. Photograph: Chip East/Reuters

“Lucasfilm came to us mainly by word of mouth,” said Dmytro Bielievtsov, CTO of Respeecher. “Someone posted about our technology in an internal sound engineering chat, and it got picked up.” Once the ball started rolling, it only took a few months to get screen-ready audio ready, he added.

“The way it works is we get a bunch of initial takes. We convert them with different varieties of models, then the client listens and sees if the performance is correct. Maybe things need to be tweaked or tweaked, but then they pick the model they like the most, and we go from there.

Work was halted in February, when Russia renewed its assault on Ukraine that had begun eight years earlier, and tanks approached Kyiv itself.

“We were psychologically prepared because we have been at war for much longer than six months,” Believtsov said. “And thanks to foreign intelligence, we knew there was a high risk of that happening, so we prepared a contingency plan to make sure the team was comfortable and safe.

“I think we executed it pretty well. There was, like, up to a day of delay that happened to some of the projects.

The startup’s first work with Lucasfilm was less prominent, setting up a voice for the younger version of Luke Skywalker for his cameos in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. But Bielevtsov says the company, which still has just 40 employees, has goals beyond the world of film and media.

“We are working to apply this for medical purposes. Laryngectomy patients whose vocal cords have been removed and replaced with a mechanical device make their voice sound less natural. It’s really cool for them to be able to speak in their natural voice again.

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