How a Tom Cruise deepfake on TikTok turned into a real AI business


CNN Affairs

Earlier this year, videos of Tom Cruise started appearing on TikTok of the actor doing surprisingly little Tom Cruise-like stuff: fooling around in a high-end menswear store; show a coin trick; growling happily during a short rendition of Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me”.

In one video, he bites into a pacifier and is amazed to find gum in the center. “Mmmmm,” he said to the camera. “It’s unbelievable. How come no one ever told me there was chewing gum? Unbelievable!”

Despite the movie star’s hair, squinting eyes, and that signature cackle, it wasn’t really Cruise. The 10 videos, which were posted between February and June, featured an artificial intelligence-generated lookalike that was supposed to look and look like him. Deepfakes – a combination of the terms “deep learning” and “fake” – were created by visual effects and AI artist Chris Umé with the help of Cruise actor, actor Miles Fisher.

This ersatz cruise was so popular, racking up tens of millions of views on TikTok, that it inspired Umé to join others to launch a business called Metaphysic in June. It uses the same deepfake technology to create otherwise impossible commercials and restore old movies. Metaphysic’s deepfake projects for clients included a Gillette razor campaign that recreated a young Deion Sanders with his look from the 1989 draft day and a campaign for the Belgian Football Association which brought two directors to life. Belgian team deceased.

By TikTok

It looks like Tom Cruise doing a coin tour, but it’s actually a deepfake created by Chris Umé.

Much attention has been paid to the potential for using deepfakes for nefarious purposes, and for good reason. The earliest known examples of deepfake videos, posted to Reddit in 2017, featured celebrity faces swapped with those of pornstars. Since then, technology has often been used to create non-consensual pornography. Lawmakers have also warned that deepfakes could be used to deceive the American public.

Yet Umé and his co-founders are among a growing number of people who believe that technology can also be fun and accomplish incredible feats for movies, commercials and other forms of media that were previously unthinkable, even with the best. special effects. The founders of Metaphysic plan to use deepfakes to do everything from rejuvenating older artists to creating duplicate videos of famous people that can be used to do commercials – or any kind of content – without needing to be physically on the tray. But as a recent controversy over the late chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain’s use of an AI-generated voice shows, even entertainment uses of such controversial technology can raise eyebrows and ethical concerns. .

“The technology is advancing, everyone really likes it,” Metaphysic co-founder Tom Graham, a London-based tech entrepreneur, told CNN Business. The company’s goal, he said, is to “really, really focus on developing our product in a way” that avoids adding to the harmful deepfakes already created by others.

Umé, who previously worked on the pilot episode of the deepfake web series “Sassy Justice” (from the creators of “South Park”), believes the future of technology is actually bright. “It’s a future where you have more freedom and more creative possibilities,” he said.

It has become easy to find deepfakes online. Some smartphone apps even let you create them yourself. But it is often possible to say that the resulting videos have been manipulated.

The kind of work that Umé and Metaphysic do is different, not to mention the difficulty and the time. They’re not just trying to create deepfakes – which makers have told CNN Business it takes a lot of effort just to look presentable – but ones that look as perfect as they can get.

For the Cruise videos that Umé made, he said he initially spent about two and a half months training an AI model on videos and footage of the Hollywood star, trying to capture him in so much angles and in as many lighting conditions as possible. According to Umé, this allows the AI ​​model to learn how the actor’s skin should react in different planes. Because the goal was to make seemingly candid deepfake videos of Cruise, rather than dramatic action shots, the training material also included plenty of public interviews from Cruise, Umé said.

Chris Umé, co-founder of Metaphysic, has made a series of incredibly realistic deepfake videos of Tom Cruise.

Metaphysics of courtesy

Chris Umé, co-founder of Metaphysic, has made a series of incredibly realistic deepfake videos of Tom Cruise.

Umé also needed to shoot some basic videos for the deepfake. Fisher, Cruise’s dual body (and voice), came up with the concepts for the videos, according to Umé. Then it took Umé two to three days to generate a deepfake video combining footage of Fisher with Cruise’s face, plus about an additional 24 hours using AI tools to do things like improve video quality.

Sometimes Umé adds some tricky AI-based flourishes. For example, this deepfake video claiming to be of a mustached Cruise showing off his CD collection is actually a combination of Fisher, Cruise, and a third guy (the mustache is from Dutch DJ Bram Krikke).

Details like this, he thinks, show just how much AI can be used to change an actor’s appearance – rather than using traditional visual effects to painstakingly alter a video one frame at a time.

Due to the novelty of this technology, there are no clear rules on how deepfakes should be created and shared. It is not yet clear, for example, if or when viewers should be informed that they are considering a deepfake, or what guidelines should govern the consent process for the subject of a deepfake.

Nick Diakopoulos, associate professor of communication studies and computer science at Northwestern University, thinks we can look to existing media for some clues. If you watch a blockbuster in a movie theater, you’re used to seeing reality mixed with special effects, and you understand that commercials – like the one Metaphysic worked on for Gillette – are meant to be very manipulative. But deepfakes could also be personalized to appeal to people from different demographics, he pointed out, or a celebrity you see endorsing a product in a deepfake ad can be chosen to match your interests. In these situations, he believes that disclosure might be necessary so that the viewer does not feel manipulated.

“I think these ethical issues are really tricky because there are no hard and fast rules where you can draw a clear line and say, ‘We’re never going to cross that line,’” said Diakopoulos.

Tom Cruise isn't really smiling here - it's a deepfake video posted on TikTok earlier this year.

By TikTok

Tom Cruise isn’t really smiling here – it’s a deepfake video posted on TikTok earlier this year.

Umé, who is based in Bangkok, and his Metaphysic co-founders – Umé’s brother, Kevin, who is in Belgium, and Graham – stressed that they were trying to keep in mind the need for safeguards on this. AI-based technology. That is, they want to make sure it is used ethically and appropriately.

The company works directly with customers who want deepfakes and uses their own technology so they know they have some control over the output, Graham said. In addition, it requires the consent of the subject for commercial projects.

The concerns are timely, following the revelation that a new documentary on Bourdain contained three pieces of AI-generated dialogue that appeared to be of him talking. The use of AI was not initially explained to viewers and Bourdain’s estranged wife subsequently spoke out against it. on Twitter. (CNN co-produced the documentary with HBO Max; the two have the same parent company, WarnerMedia.)

Umé has not heard any complaints from Cruise or the other celebrities he has parodied using AI. He said he contacted Cruise management, offering to remove the videos and cede control of the TikTok account if Cruise did not approve of what they were doing. Umé said he just received a response that the message had been received. Cruise has not publicly commented on the deepfakes, and representatives for Cruise have not responded to CNN Business’s requests for comment.

Due to Cruise’s status as a public figure and the fact that the videos are flirtatious parodies, they do not appear to violate a TikTok rule that prohibits “synthetic or manipulated content that misleads users into distorting the truth of the media. events in a way that could cause harm.

“If any of these celebrities feel bad about what I’m doing, I’ll be the first to take it off because it’s not my intention,” said Umé. “But I like to hypnotize people.”

Meanwhile, on TikTok, the deeptomcruise account added deepfakes from other celebrities, including a video of singer Mariah Carey in late July. Dressed in black leather as she sat on a motorbike, she dons a black helmet with cat ears.

“I bet you never thought you would see this, eh?” she said with a smile, before stepping out of a parking lot.

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