Top Gun: Maverick soared into theaters this past Memorial Day weekend, bringing back Tom Cruise’s reckless Navy pilot Maverick, shirtless group sport activities, and Kenny Loggins’ 1980s hit “Danger Zone.” The sequel also brings back Maverick’s Top Gun rival, the blonde highlights-having Iceman (played by Val Kilmer).
Now an admiral, Iceman in Top Gun: Maverick is mostly unable to speak due to an unnamed disease, similar to Kilmer’s own loss of speech after undergoing a tracheotomy for throat cancer back in 2014. Yet, he’s able to deliver one emotionally potent line of dialogue to Maverick thanks to some advanced artificial intelligence used by the actor previously.
Back in 2021, Kilmer announced via The Wrap that he had partnered with the software company Sonantic to recreate his speaking voice in celebration of the release of his documentary, Val. Using an AI prototype and “archival footage of his voice,” Sonantic was able to craft a model of the actor’s voice via their company’s algorithms. Now for Top Gun: Maverick, the company used that similar process for Kilmer’s short moment of dialogue in the film.
“In the end, we generated more than 40 different voice models and selected the best, highest-quality, most expressive one,” said Sonantic’s CTO and co-founder John Flynn in a recent interview with Fortune. “Those new algorithms are now embedded into our voice engine, so future clients can automatically take advantage of them as well.”
For Kilmer’s case specifically, the company said its voice engine had “around 10 times less data” than other projects did, which caused it to come up with new algorithms that would provide better quality voice models for big films like Top Gun: Maverick.
“I’m grateful to the entire team at Sonantic who masterfully restored my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible,” Kilmer said in a statement back in 2021. He added: “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.”