“The technology is moving forward, whether anybody likes it, really,” Metaphysic cofounder Tom Graham, a tech entrepreneur who’s based in London, told CNN Business. The company’s goal, he said, is to “really, really focus on trying to develop our product in a way” that avoids adding to the harmful deepfakes already being created by others.
Umé, who previously worked on the pilot episode of deepfake web series “Sassy Justice” (from the creators of “South Park”), thinks the technology’s future is actually bright. “It’s a future where you have more freedom and more creative possibilities,” he said.
Deepfakes backed by real effort
The kind of work Umé and Metaphysic do is different, not to mention difficult and time consuming. They’re not just trying to create deepfakes — which makers have told CNN Business require a lot of effort simply to look presentable — but ones that look as flawless as possible.
For the Cruise videos that Umé made, he said he first spent about two and a half months just training an AI model on videos and images of the Hollywood star, trying to capture him from as many angles and in as many lighting conditions as possible. According to Umé, this lets the AI model learn how the actor’s skin should react in different shots. Because the goal was to make seemingly candid deepfake videos of Cruise, rather than dramatic action shots, the training material also included lots of Cruise’s public interviews, Umé said.
Umé also needed to shoot base videos for the deepfake. Fisher, the Cruise body (and voice) double, 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 another 24 hours using AI tools to do things like enhance video quality.
Such details, he thinks, show how well 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.
“I’ll be the first one to take it down”
Due to how new this technology is, there aren’t clear rules about how deepfakes should be made and shared. It’s not yet clear, for instance, if or when viewers should be informed that they’re looking at a deepfake, or what guidelines should govern the consent process for the subject of a deepfake.
Nick Diakopoulos, an associate professor in communication studies and computer science at Northwestern University, thinks we can look to existing media for some hints. If you’re watching a blockbuster hit at a movie theater, you’re used to seeing reality blended with special effects, and you understand that ads — such as the one that Metaphysic worked on for Gillette — are meant to be highly manipulative. But deepfakes could also be personalized to appeal to people in different demographic groups, he pointed out, or a celebrity you see endorsing a product in a deepfake ad may be chosen to match your interests. In these situations, he thinks a disclosure might be necessary so the viewer doesn’t feel manipulated.
“I think these ethics questions are really tricky because there aren’t hard and fast rules where you can draw a bright line and say, ‘We’re never going to cross this line’,” Diakopoulos said.
Umé, who’s based in Bangkok, and his cofounders at Metaphysic — Umé’s brother, Kevin, who’s in Belgium, and Graham — stressed that they’re trying to be mindful of the need for guardrails on this AI-driven technology. That is, they want to make sure it’s used ethically and appropriately.
The company is working directly with clients who want deepfakes and using its own technology so it knows it has some control over the output, Graham said. Additionally, it requires consent of the subject for commercial projects.
Umé hasn’t heard any complaints from Cruise or the other celebrities he has parodied using AI. He said he did reach out to Cruise’s management, offering to take down the videos and hand over control of the TikTok account if Cruise didn’t approve of what they were doing. Umé said he simply got a response indicating the message had been received. Cruise hasn’t publicly commented on the deepfakes, and representatives for Cruise did not respond to CNN Business’ requests for comment.
“If any of these celebrities would ever feel bad about what I’m making, I’ll be the first one to take it down because that’s not my intent,” Umé said. “But I like to mesmerize people.”
Meanwhile, on TikTok, the deeptomcruise account has added deepfakes of other celebrities, including, a video of singer Mariah Carey in late July. Clad in black leather while sitting on a motorcycle, she dons a black helmet with cat ears.
“Bet you never thought you’d see this, huh?” she says with a smile, before peeling out of a parking lot.