Often used as an invisible trick to replace (or resurrect) an unavailable actor, the deepfake technique, which allows faces to be manipulated in a very realistic way in a video, has inspired many pop culture video makers. We have selected ten remarkable examples.
Deepfake is “an artificial intelligence-based image synthesis technique [used to] overlay existing audio and video files on other videos,” explains Wikipedia , allowing in particular to “change the face of a person on a video”. Thanks to fun and easy-to-learn mobile applications, the technique is no longer reserved for Hollywood studios.
Just like post-synchronization, color grading and other techniques used by filmmakers to “correct” their production, face retouching is a tool to compensate for the unavailability of an actor, whether this is temporary (this week, the French series Plus Belle La Vie used deepfake to invisibly “double” an actress suffering from Covid-19) or definitive (such as when an actor dies during filming – e.g the famous case of Oliver Reed in Gladiator, in 2000). In both cases, the deepfake is invisible, or is at least supposed to be, and constitutes a trick like any other.
But in the hands of film-loving and inventive video-makers, deepfake can on the contrary be extremely visible, subject to knowing the works and people diverted to appreciate the references.
We offer you a selection of remarkable deepfakes published on YouTube in recent years (sorted by upload date):
1. One Obama can hide another (17/04/2018)
While in the process of writing his memoirs, the first volume of which has just been released, the former American president appears in the spring of 2018 in a video entitled “You Won’t Believe What Obama Says In This Video!” 😉 ”) posted by Buzzfeed. The rigging is quickly revealed with the appearance of Obama’s “impersonator” for this video supposed to warn against the risks of disinformation in anticipation of the future electoral campaign: it was Jordan Peele, an actor who frequently does impressions of Obama’s in the hilarious sketches of his show Key & Peele (2012-2015), who has since become an acclaimed writer-director (Get Out, Us).
2. The meta replay of a cult film (10/12/2018)
If there is a narrative gimmick that lends itself to remixing via face manipulation, it is the sub-genre of body-swapping, understanding the exchange of bodies between characters, usually justified by an element of fantasy. In 1997, the filmmaker John Woo used it for his thriller Face-Off with an improbable plot: an FBI agent (played by John Travolta) saw the face of his sworn enemy, a terrorist in a coma (Nicolas Cage ), in order to collect information that could prevent an attack. Awakened, the terrorist escaped, after having had the face of his nemesis grafted, each character hence “incarnating” the other for different reasons. A not very credible but masterfully staged story-line which, in this deepfake by Derpfakes, allows us to see the “correct” faces of the actors, each one corresponding to the roles they play. It should be noted in passing that the author of this edit obviously has a fixation on Nicolas Cage.
3. Jim Carrey as Jack Nicholson (08/07/2019)
The Ctrl Shift Face account, active since the end of 2017 on YouTube, now peaks at more than 81 million views on the platform. It is undoubtedly one of the most technically talented, and also very gifted in the field of alternative casting, namely to imagine such an actor in place of another in an iconic role. Its series of videos replacing Jack Nicholson with Jim Carrey in Stanley Kubrick’s traumatic The Shining is a perfect example.
4. Macron and the French Touch of OSS 117 (21/09/2019)
Cock-a-doodle doo, France is not without a deepfake creator! Certainly, the aptly named French Faker is actually the only one existing to our knowledge – thank you for pointing out any others in the comments -, which is why he is notably behind the deepfake sequences of the show C’est Canteloup ( TF1) and recent rigged shots of the episodes of Plus Belle La Vie (France 3) mentioned above. In September 2019, French Faker had the flair to embed the head of Emmanuel Macron on that of Jean Dujardin, during a funny sequence of condescension taken from OSS 117: Rio e répond plus. The title of the video: [CLASH] Macron addresses the Yellow Vests.
5. An imaginary but credible cinephile round table (11/11/2019)
Specialized media, in particular those dedicated to cinema, love round tables between “the talented” to discuss a common subject. In November 2019, for the launch of Disney +, the Collider site brought together Robert Downey Jr, George Lucas, Tom Cruise, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Goldblum around the same table to discuss the future of cinema in the era of streaming platforms. The actors (and the director) were of course not really involved, but we can welcome both the effectiveness of the deepfakes (only the different builds of the “actor-dubbers” betray them) and the quality of the writing of this 15- minute segment, often very funny.
6. Double dose of Schwarzenegger (10/01/2020)
In 1988, the Austrian colossus formed with Danny DeVito an unlikely duo of (false) twins in Ivan Reitman’s comedy Twins. Youtuber The Fake Report therefore had the good idea to stick Schwarzenegger’s face on DeVito’s, and the result is as disturbing as it is technically successful.
7. “Star Wars”, inexhaustible vein of diversions (24/02/2020)
Finargot is a Russian deepfaker (who else could have thought of pasting Vladimir Putin’s face on Daniel Craig’s ?), Who we also imagine to be a Star Wars fan, one of the most remixed franchises on the web. In February 2020, the video-maker replaced the face of the bland Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker, future Darth Vader, in episodes I, II and III of the saga) by that of Adam Driver, future Kylo Ren (i.e. the grandson of Darth Vader) in episodes VII, VIII and IX. The remix is therefore not totally gratuitous, since it echoes the genealogy of the characters – remember that Lucas himself is an amateur of such manipulations – see the tampering by him of his first trilogy.
8. An illustration of missed opportunities (10/07/2020)
The use of deepfake makes it possible to materialise visions that were planned at one time but never realised, like the initial casting of actor Tom Selleck, instead of Harrison Ford, in the role of Indiana Jones; Selleck, forced to honour his contract for the Magnum series, had been unable to play the adventurous archaeologist. Thanks to the very talented video-maker Shamook, we can understand why Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had considered such a casting.
9. Hello body-builders (07/10/2020)
Box office rivals in the 80s and 90s, action film stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger lent themselves perfectly to a rereading of the cult comedy Step Brothers (2008), set respectively on bodies of John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell. Signed Brian Monarch, this perfect deepfake has been, since it was first put online, also offered in a version dubbed by an imitator.
10. Sassy Justice Trump (26/10/2020)
Several of the video makers on this list, such as Ctrl Shift Face or DerpFakes, have been engaged with some of their peers on a curious project by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone: Sassy Justice. The character who gives his name to this web series is none other than Donald Trump – at least, he has similar features. Mark Zuckerberg is also part of this promising satirical frenzy – only one episode has so far been uploaded.
BONUS: A dictator among the mafia
The United States and Europe do not have a monopoly on deepfakes: an Egyptian creator, Muhammad Xachraf, also produces them. In May 2020, less than three months after his death, ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak found himself, thanks to him, in the shoes of Robert de Niro in Scorsese’s two classics, Goodfellas and Casino.