“My voice as I knew it, was taken away from me.”
Actor Val Kilmer is reintroducing his voice to the world — perhaps one of his more remarkable performances to date.
Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer back in 2014 and the 61-year-old lost his ability to speak in the way he had grown to know after undergoing a tracheotomy. However, after a year of work with AI voice technology company Sonantic, he’s now able to communicate using a computer-generated replica.
The company posted a message from the star, in his own words and voice:
“We all have the capacity to be creative. We’re all driven to share our deepest dreams and ideas with the world,” said Kilmer in the clip. “When we think of the most talented creative people, they speak to us in a unique way. A phrase we often hear is ‘having a creative voice.’ But I was struck by throat cancer. After getting treated, my voice as I knew it was taken away from me. People around me struggle to understand when I’m talking.”
“But despite all that I still feel I’m the exact same person,” he continued. “Still the same creative soul. A soul that dreams ideas and stories confidently, but now I can express myself again, bring these ideas to you, and show you this part of myself once more. A part that was never truly gone. Just hiding away.”
In a blog post, the co-founder of Sonantic, John Flynn, talked about the project and how it was “particularly challenging” because they were trying to recreate something that no longer existed within Val Kilmer.
“When we create voice models with actors who are able to perform their lines, we provide set scripts,” said Flynn. “The actors record performances of those scripts, then we feed the recorded audio into our proprietary Voice Engine, which trains the AI model. The Voice Engine provides a variety of manual and automated capabilities for checking the quality of the model. “When an actor is unable to perform lines from our scripts—as in the case with Val—we need to do a bit more manual work. The first step is to gather audio recordings of the actor. For the best results, we need clean audio, with little background noise, in the highest-quality format.”
He also mentioned that his team managed to create the new technology specifically for the project. Kilmer could only provide 10 percent of the number of old recordings that’s normally needed to create an AI voice.
When all is said and done, and after listening to what the artificial intelligence achieved, Kilmer was more than happy — to say the least — with what he witnessed.
“I’m grateful to the entire team at Sonantic who masterfully restored my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible,” said Kilmer. “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.”