• Dave McGuire

Hollywood's Deepfake Future

The Clarksvillian

Most everyone in the social media world is aware of the term "deepfake." Deepfake is the process of artificial intelligence and machine learning focused on superimposing one person’s face onto another person within a moving video. For the moment, it’s limited to the visuals and not the audio components. And believe it or not, that last piece to the puzzle is not too far around the corner.

After reading that introduction, I’m sure you’ve taken a break to surf the web for deepfake videos. You’ve probably noticed the faked videos are banned from Reddit and Twitter. The reasons are the violation of their site's consent policy and are essentially comparable to those for revenge porn. It’s doubtful those criteria will change, and the actual banning of unofficial videos may spread. However, legal corporate business innovation continues, and the developments are moving ahead at a rapid pace.

Earlier this year, researchers from Disney Studios showed the latest deepfake technology, which has the potential to make this technology more easily accessible for the movie and/or television industry. At a recent CGI conference, Disney gave a presentation demonstrating the first photo-realistic deepfake. This version of the technology provides results at the megapixel resolution level. The new method’s unique characteristic is the ability to swap any face with a pre-recorded performance, completing the full experience. The process is so convincing, it successfully recreates the contrast and lighting conditions of the deep-faked face in any specific scene. This new Disney technology is apparently so impressively accurate, it provides the ability to fully recreate acting performances by performers no longer living, aging, or physically incapable of performing a role.

Clearly, one of the most exciting prospects for this technology is the reality of computer-generated (CGI) personalities involving celebrities of the past. Peter Cushing shocked fans by returning to the role of Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue One. In this same movie, a youthful Carrie Fisher also appeared, playing Leia Organa. The first step is to leap into the mainstream.

With the continued analysis of patterns, computers can model the behaviors of characters and reproduce accurate models of movements and mannerisms. This technology is not limited to resurrecting only entertainers or performers. The same type of technology can be applied to modern-day actors or actresses to reimagine characters as belonging to a different age.

The bulk of a movie really depends on the director. The director is the buffer between a wasted afternoon and a masterpiece. Directors, like all people, don’t last forever or have peak moments in their careers. And like actors, each director will bring obvious patterns of performance related to film techniques, innovation, and practice that are open to analysis by computers as they prepare for the reproduction of styles.

While all of this may simply be a fascinating waste of time in modern online communities, for filmmakers, it opens the doors of opportunity to interesting possibilities. What if it became an option to cast any actor who’s ever lived in a role for an upcoming low-budget film that’s been sitting on the desk? This is where deepfake movies have the most potential to thrive in the marketplace. Studios legally have several challenges when attempting to revive an actor or actress for a project. But an unofficial deepfake would not be bound by any such limitations. With enough dedication — and disregard for likeness rights and royalties — anyone could feasibly shoot a low-budget action film after gathering enough raw source deepfake data. That company could then release the project on the web as, for example, a new Heath Ledger project.

Just as the internet has been subjected to censorship in a number of areas, this could pave the way for a new frontier of creativity. Who would’ve thought your newest favorite film would be downloaded from online forums?