Val Kilmer is introducing fans to his new voice.
“My voice as I knew it, was taken away from me,” the actor says in a new video, revealing that he lost the ability to speak after undergoing a tracheotomy to treat his throat cancer.
However, thanks to artificial intelligence and the work of AI voice technology company Sonantic, Kilmer can now communicate using a computer-generated replica that is a dead ringer for the voice fans have come to recognize from such performances in “Top Gun” and “The Doors”.
Earlier this month, Sonatic posted a video featuring Kilmer’s AI-generated voice.
“We all have the capacity to be creative. We’re all driven to share our deepest dreams and ideas with the world. 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,'” Kilmer says in the video, above.
“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,” he continues.
“But despite all that I still feel I’m the exact same person. 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,” he states. “A part that was never truly gone. Just hiding away.”
In a blog post about the project, co-founder John Flynn explained that recapturing Kilmer’s voice was particularly challenging, given that his voice no longer existed.
“When we create voice models with actors who are able to perform their lines, we provide set scripts. 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,” he wrote.
“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,” Flynn added, revealing that he and his team wound up developing brand-new technology just for this project.
Kilmer is thrilled with the result.
“I’m grateful to the entire team at Sonantic who masterfully restored my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible,” he said. “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.”