We’ve all seen a deepfake video on the internet by now, even if we didn’t realise it at the time. As video content takes off, so too is video's most advanced (and dangerous) form of photoshop.
What Is a Deepfake?
Let’s start with why it’s called a “deepfake” in the first place. It’s not just a great name for a goth band, the term was in fact drawn from the artificial intelligence technology “deep learning” that powers deepfakes. Deep learning AI is intended to mimic how humans gain knowledge and when presented with large amounts of data, can teach itself things. For example, the exact contours and subtle expressions of Tom Cruise’s face.
We’ll get more into that later though. The point is that deep learning AI, though often used in statistics and for predictive modelling has helped birth something very futuristic: a type of technology that can understand human speech, recognise objects and even learn to model a human face.
That’s how deepfakes are able to “face swap” and make it look as though Jim Carrey played the lead in The Shining when we all know the freaky twins were the real stars of that film.
How Are Deepfakes Produced?
The future of video production has never looked stranger. One of the most popular examples of a deepfake is a viral TikTok account dedicated to videos of a deepfake Tom Cruise. The VFX creator behind it, Chris Ume, explained in an interview with Vice last year how he did it. Ume began by feeding the deep learning AI with “thousands and thousands” of images of Tom Cruise until the artificial intelligence software eventually learned every angle and twitch of the man’s face.
What Ume was able to create with this is a “model” of Tom Cruise’s face. He then partnered with Miles Fisher, a Tom Cruise impersonator, and used VFX to swap Fisher’s face for Cruise. The result is a string of videos that makes it look as though Tom Cruise has reinvented himself as a Tik Tok star. The reality is that great acting combined with a deep learning system has created something that turns the whole concept of “reality” on its head.
The Tom Cruise deepfake is the definition of uncanny, blurring the line between reality and digital intervention until it’s near invisible. As funny as the TikToks are, they’re also a stark reminder that deepfakes are one of the most advanced forms of video photoshopping out there and we may not always be able to catch it. These aren’t the wonky lines of a Kardashian making her waist look smaller in an Instagram story, kids.
It may seem like a crazy jump to go from super-smart artificial intelligence tech to a TikTok account dedicated to a deepfake of Tom Cruise but that’s exactly what makes deepfakes so interesting: the leaps being made. The impact it’s already had on video production and how it may shape the future, is something the world is still trying to catch up on.
One Step Darker: Deepfake Examples
We’ve spoken on this site about how porn has impacted the content economy, but it’s also where one of the very first known examples of a deepfake popped up. In 2017, a Reddit user posted pornographic videos in which the faces of the original porn actresses were replaced with that of celebrities like Gal Gadot and Scarlett Johansson. A study in 2019 done by an artificial intelligence firm found that 96% of deepfakes involved inserting celebrity women into porn, without their consent.
At the time, the firm also found that the number of deepfakes on the internet had doubled in just a year. Tom Cruise isn’t the only one with a deepfake TikTok account. Unreal Keanu Reeves has millions of views and it wasn’t too long ago that a genius mash-up of Jordan Peeles’ impersonation of Barack Obama with a deepfake of the former president went viral.
Many of the examples we’ve seen of deepfakes online have been comedic and work best when, as with the Tom Cruise account, a talented actor partners with someone who can build the deepfake model. As eerie as these videos are, they’re ultimately done for comedic relief.
The examples of deepfakes in porn and politics however are far more nefarious. Politicians can be digitally inserted into videos saying things they haven’t and as the BBC just explored in a recent documentary, Deepfake Porn: You Could Be Next, women are being simulated having sex in videos using deepfakes of them.
It changes so much of what we know about the future of video production if we can digitally insert someone with their voice and expressions all intact, without their permission and them being there in the first place.
What Deepfakes Mean for Video Production
There’s no doubt that deepfakes, whether you use them or not, are changing the video production game. An article on Screen Rant made the point that deepfakes could completer alter approaches to reshoots and edits. If there’s a last-minute decision to add in a new line of dialogue, the line need only be recorded and merged with a deepfake. No reshoot needed. The Mandalorian even considered using a deepfake to include a young Luke Skywalker in the series which would have cut the need to cast for the role entirely.
Whatever the intentionality behind deepfakes, the way it alters the possibilities for video producers can’t be ignored. The Korean television channel MBN even went so far as to present its audience with a deepfake of its news anchor, Kim Joo-Ha while she was off work. As deepfakes grow more adept, Hollywood is being presented with the possibility of being able to recast a film digitally without ever getting the new actor on set.
We might not be a big Hollywood studio, but even so, as a Melbourne video production company, we’re always looking for ways to improve how we make content. interesting to consider if deep fakes might form part of that at Enamoured Iris.
Fake It Until You Make It
For now, however, the most promising aspect of deepfakes for the average film producer is what it could offer in post-production. Unless you’re setting out to create parody content with celebrity deepfakes, the usefulness of the technology lies in its ability to fill gaps in the editing room without paying for reshoots.
Even comedic content creators have to be careful with their use of deepfakes as the legality of using someone’s likeness to sell a product or share ideas online without their permission is shaky at best.
The world of deepfakes is new and fraught with mixed intentions. While it opens some incredible new possibilities for video producers in terms of the content they can make through digital intervention, it’s also important to keep an eye on things like consent.
What Deepfakes Mean for Consumers
With every door that deepfakes open for the future of video production, there’s a world of doubt being created for consumers. If you didn’t know that the Tom Cruise TikTok account was a deepfake, would you have noticed it?
Many people don’t. It’s why the use of deepfakes with political figures is so dangerous. In the past video has been treated as a representation of reality, but consumers nowadays need to be far more suspicious of the videos they’re watching. Celebrity endorsements of a product could be faked but equally, even the concept of deepfake casts doubt over unaltered videos too.
How can we tell what’s really real?
One of the biggest tells in many deepfakes is a lack of blinking. This occurs because most images processed by the artificial intelligence software likely showed the person with their eyes open. Even this however has been fixed by some, making it harder than ever to counteract consumer misinformation. MIT has gone as far as creating a site called Detect Fakes to teach people how to tell fabricated videos apart from the real deal and avoid being duped.
The idea is that if we learn the tells of a deepfake, we can notice them better and protect ourselves from misinformation whether it’s about a new product or a political figure. If the use of deepfakes were limited to making Snoop Dogg a tarot card reader, we’d be able to laugh this technology off, but it’s not quite so simple.
The Deep End
In the same way that we keep an eye on trends such as live streaming in the gaming industry, we’re always invested in staying on top of technology that could make our work at Enamoured Iris even better. Deepfakes offer comedic potential and a whole new way to look at post-production for video shoots, but it also offers warnings about the danger of making the digital world too real.
Searching for “video production Melbourne”? Enamoured Iris is a creative video production company producing online video content for lifestyle brands in the Travel, Apparel and Entertainment industries. The company’s head office is based in Melbourne, Australia.