It’s a wonderful… robot?
The voice of Stewart, who starred in films including “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Vertigo” and “Rear Window,” was recreated for the Calm story using AI voice-cloning technology. The project has the consent of Stewart’s family and his estate (managed by CMG Worldwide).
The AI-generated “It’s a Wonderful Sleep Story,” which Calm bills as “a heartwarming new holiday tale,” premieres exclusively on the app Dec. 5. It will be available to subscribers of Calm Premium, which costs $69.99 per year.
“Well, hello. I’m James Stewart. But, well, you can call me Jimmy,” the AI-generated voice of Stewart says in the story’s intro. “Tonight, I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a heartwarming story of love, of loss, of hope and of joy. But most of all, it’s a wonderful sleep story.” (Listen to the clip below.)
Kelly Stewart Harcourt, one of Stewart’s daughters, said in a statement, “We are excited for our dad to be the voice of Calm’s latest Sleep Story. It’s amazing what technology can do and wonderful to see Dad’s legacy live on this holiday season in new ways, like helping people find restful sleep and sweet dreams.”
Calm developed the Stewart bedtime story in collaboration with Respeecher, an AI voice-cloning startup whose credits include recreating Mark Hamill’s voice of Luke Skywalker for “The Mandalorian” and James Earl Jones’ voice of Darth Vader for “Obi-Wan Kenobi” on Disney+. The story was written and produced by Calm’s creative team.
“Jimmy Stewart’s calming voice is one of the most iconic in movie history, and we’re thrilled to see it brought to the leading relaxation app on the market,” said Tina Xavie, chief marketing officer of CMG Worldwide. “Thanks to advanced technology, we all get the joy of hearing Jimmy’s unique voice again.”
In recreating Stewart’s voice, Respeecher employed a voice actor who performed the lines and mimicked his speech style. “It was essential, like in all other projects, that the project was done according to high ethical standards and respect, which Respeecher has advocated for many years,” said Alex Serdiuk, Respeecher CEO and co-founder. He added, “James Stewart is one of the most remarkable actors in U.S. history. Recreating his voice with AI was both a huge responsibility and an honor for Respeecher. It was a way to pay tribute to his incredible career and all the good memories he left to people.”
While the AI-generated Stewart bedtime reading has the blessing of his family and estate, such recreations have generated backlash among those who see the projects as exploitative and inauthentic. Warner Music Group recently announced an animated biopic of French singer Edith Piaf that will use AI to create a facsimile of her voice and image, resulting in criticism on social media. The film’s creators told Variety that they are striving to produce something that looks “very, very realistic” and that “we didn’t want her to look cartoonish.”
Calm has built a franchise around its Sleep Story series, with several tales on the app narrated by celebrities including: Jennifer Garner, Shawn Mendes, Cynthia Erivo, Camila Cabello, Nick Offerman, Harry Styles, Michael Bublé, Matthew McConaughey, LeBron James, Regé-Jean Page, Laura Dern, Cillian Murphy, Idris Elba, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, LeVar Burton, Lucy Liu, Mandy Moore and Kate Winslet.
Listen to the intro of “It’s a Wonderful Sleep Story”: