A Conversation With Alex Serdiuk: Respeecher CEO Talks ‘The Mandalorian’ and Giving History Its Voice
Luke Skywalker’s iconic appearance at the conclusion of The Mandalorian’s second season was the year’s biggest surprise; the CEO of Respeecher, the company whose technology is responsible for recreating Luke’s voice, sat down with us to discuss the process, and much more, in our conversation with Alex Serdiuk.
We all remember the incredible moment; the season finale which saw Mando’s journey to deliver Grogu to a Jedi capable of training him finally come to a head.
It was an episode with a plethora of questions answered, and many more asked; an episode that saw the series set up the next adventure of our favorite Mandalorian, while also featuring the resurrection of a legend.
Luke Skywalker returned; this time in the same form the world last witnessed at the end of Return of the Jedi, equipped with a de-aged presence and his black Jedi knight robes the hero donned in the third installment of the original trilogy.
It wasn’t until long after that episode aired that the series showrunner, Jon Favreau, revealed that not only was the image of Luke Skywalker de-aged, but his voice was completely synthetically formulated using cutting-edge technology known as Respeecher.
we had a conversation with Alex Serdiuk, Respeechers CEO, about the process, working with Lucasfilm and joining the Star Wars legacy, and the future of technology in film.
Congrats to @AlexSerdiuk and the @respeecher team for their incredible demo of their Head of Research speaking in @daniellecohn’s voice at the @LIFT_Labs @techstars demo day! First stop is Hollywood studios. Next stop is taking over the offshore call center market! pic.twitter.com/Yq5oq01aL6
— KJ Singh (@kjsnyc) October 11, 2019
Alex Serdiuk is the young CEO of the worlds leading developer of synthetic speech software and heads a team of brilliant, young minds who are working every day to enhance a system that has truly revolutionized what has been capable in the world of filmmaking.
“I didn’t grow up a Star Wars fan- not like I am now, but I have such an appreciation for the history of Star Wars and Lucasfilm.”
For Serdiuk, and the entire Respeecher team, joining the legacy of technological innovation in Star Wars- spearheaded by the George Lucas created Industrial Light and Magic and Lucasfilms- was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Whether it be the advancements in effects that occurred during the production of the Original Trilogy, or the computer-generated advancements developed during the production of the prequels, to Disney’s advancements in de-aging technology during their time guiding the universe; Star Wars maintains an incomparable legacy in the technology of film.
Described in The Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, Favearue and his team discussed the gathering of data that went into the actual foundation of what Respeecher could create; in our conversation with Alex Serdiuk, we learned more about the process and its intricate programing.
“The A.I is listening” Serdiuk stated when discussing the process from their perspective; “It takes a lot of time to listen and learn how the voice should sound.”
The technology isn’t just inserting clips of Hamill’s recordings, it is actively understanding the inflections that made Mark Hamill sound like himself; it is teaching the program to create the voice that same voice
The technology is still dependent on human performance to add the very human quality to the voice- which is perhaps why the effect of the program is so unrecognizable- yet, it will use that recording to develop an uncanny resemblenace of the desired voice.
It was The Mandalorian that not only allowed Respeecher to work on perhaps the most beloved film franchise of all time, it also allowed Serdiuk to follow his own personal passion; the preservation of history.
It was Respeecher who was responsible for recreating Vince Lombardi for the Super Bowl, and again with resurrecting widely beloved Puerto Rican announcer, Manolo Morales; a feat met with an emotional response from those long touched by Morales passionate and memorable voice.
— alex.serdiuk (@AlexSerdiuk) February 8, 2021
“Grown men were in tears,” Serdiuk stated on the Respeecher’s work in Puerto Rico. He continued, “When kids see their parents or grandparents crying, they will be interested. they will be curious about history.”
Our conversation with Alex Serdiuk allowed us to witness his great passion for the perseverance of history that has led Respeecher to bring Luke to life once again; to allow the previous generation of Star Wars fans to ignite the curiosity within this newest generation.
To make them interested in who exactly Luke Skywalker is; a character they may, in fact, meet for the very first time in The Mandalorian.
For Respeecher, working on the series was beneficial in a way perhaps nothing else could be; with the CEO noting the great gain the companies received from working with the revered filmmaker and studio.
“We were very happy that Jon Favreau revealed that we were behind the voice, just 9 months after the episode aired,” Serdiuk stated discussing the companies pride in their work.
But this success doesn’t set an altered course for Respeecher’s future plans; with much of their focus remaining on how they can help smaller content creators using their technology.
One way they’ve done this is through their work with younger video game developers; creators who don’t have the budget to hire an entire cast for the various voices for their characters. Respeecher allows one voice, to become hundreds.
For Respeecher, they remain the first example of film technology that, as displayed in The Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, is indistinguishable from a genuine recording.
As far as the future for other film technology, specifically in the realm of computer-generated imagery, Serdiuk sees 2021 as the year that indistinguishability will become a present concern for the industry as a whole.
Serdiuk notes the only major hurdle towards this inevitable indistinguishability is what many refer to as the Uncanny Valey, or verisimilitude; which is often an issue when it comes to the human interpretation of a robotic or synthesized image
“This is the year it will become indistinguishable,” Serduik stated, “the images look too real, they almost become scary; this is the only hurdle, and it’s one their learning how to correct.”
With this inevitable indistinguishability, Serdiuk urges the tech community to lean into the ethical and moral questions of these advancements now; a focus that remains a priority for Respeecher
Serdiuk firmly agrees with Favearus suggestions of encoding digital and original imagery with markings to signify their legitimacy, “We realized the train has left the station, and it isn’t going to stop; We need to address these things now because it will only get faster.”
Mark Hamill, and the signature voice so etched into many of our minds, was resurrected by the incredible work Serdiuk, and Respeecher has done; and although he couldn’t comment, we can only hope that Lucasfilm’s preservation of their beloved characters, will allow them to work their magic in the future.