Have you ever heard of the Uncanny Valley? It’s the theory that explains why the human race tends to prefer humanoid robots, but only up to a point, after which we find them unsettling. It’s one reason why so many people found the 2019 film Cats bothersome to watch. The Uncanny Valley has also been present in film in recent years, especially when actors who have passed are recreated digitally to make an appearance, or when talent needs to look older or younger than they are.
However, Disney Research Studios has created a new technology that allows actors to be more seamlessly re-aged, as the House of Mouse calls it, automatically, saving tons of time for the visual effects artists and preserving the profits for the studio.
Let’s go over the basics of the technology, just to consider another application artificial intelligence has.
Many modern films have demonstrated the use of computer-generated images to either depict human (or at least humanoid) characters, and each arguably has demonstrated the Uncanny Valley to some degree—particularly seen in the case of Sonic the Hedgehog in 2020, before the official trailer received enough outrage from fans to convince Paramount Pictures to bring the titular character back to the literal drawing board.
Plus, these kinds of characters and images have historically taken forever to produce, as all edits needed to be made to each individual frame. Considering that there are 24 frames per second in a movie, and the average movie is about 131 minutes long, that’s a total of 188,640 frames that could potentially need editing. That’s a ton of work, necessitating a ton of time and effort to complete.
So, in addition to the Uncanny Valley issue, there are real cost concerns associated with re-aging actors.
These were the issues that Disney Research Studios set out to tackle…and little wonder, once you consider how many actors have needed to be re-aged for Disney’s various properties. Jeff Bridges was re-aged for 2010’s Tron: Legacy to reprise his role from the 1982 original film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen Michael Douglas, Robert Downey Jr., Kurt Russell, Michelle Pfeiffer, Stan Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and more all digitally de-aged for varying lengths of time—in Jackson’s case, the entirety of 2019’s Captain Marvel. Star Wars has used the technology to de-age Mark Hamill in another 2019 film, The Rise of Skywalker. Harrison Ford is set to be de-aged for the upcoming Indiana Jones film.
So, with Disney clearly investing a lot of time and money into this process, it comes as no surprise that they would seek out a simpler means of completing it.
FRAN is the tool that helps to automate a lot of the digital fiddling that would otherwise take hours or days in post-production to accomplish. While FRAN works much like any other AI-powered tool would—leveraging a neural network that has been trained on thousands of fake human faces to accurately determine how a person’s face would look with years of growth and experience added or subtracted—Disney’s new tool is capable of applying these changes to video footage, all the while preserving expressions and lighting changes. Perhaps most importantly to Disney’s use case, FRAN also enables artists to tweak the results of the effect with hands-on tools.
FRAN has a few limitations, however. Since hair going gray wasn’t included in the training data, the network doesn’t currently make these kinds of changes. Other issues are also present, but can largely be resolved by live artists going in and revising FRAN’s work. This human-software collaboration ultimately results in re-aging that is more convincing than ever.
Harrison Ford said as much when he commented on the results of his own de-aging for the next Indiana Jones film, “This is the first time I’ve seen it where I believe it. It’s a little spooky, I don’t think I even want to know how it works, but it works.”
While very, very cool, the progression of this technology does come with some worrisome side effects. For instance, if the network were to ever become publicly available—admittedly, something that Disney will undoubtedly work to prevent—think about how much more convincing deepfakes could potentially become. Sure, the entertainment industry might be able to accomplish more convincing media, but will you and your employees wind up targeted by more effective attacks? Time will only tell.
In the meantime, we can help ensure that your business and its team are better prepared for the threats it faces now. Find out more about our cybersecurity solutions by calling 724-473-3950.