Filmmakers break down the George Clooney, Rachel McAdams movie you've never heard of
Deepfake technology allowed Hollywood rookies to have two of the world's most famous actors in their new movie, 'Face Swap.'
How's this for a movie pitch: A husband and wife are looking to spice up their love life, so they try out a new technology that allows you to swap your face for that of anyone in the world. With the click of a button, the husband turns his wife into actress Rachel McAdams and the wife chooses George Clooney, one of People magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive." What could go wrong?
What sounds like an episode of "Black Mirror" or "The Twilight Zone" is actually the basis for the new short film "Face Swap," which you can watch above. The five-minute masterpiece is the brainchild of Israeli filmmakers David Gidali and Einat Tubi. What's remarkable is that it actually appears to be George Clooney and Rachel McAdams in the movie. So how did they pull off that cinematic magic trick? And what lessons can we learn from their film about the confluence of life, love and technology? We caught up with the young couple from their home in Los Angeles to discuss the movie that has everybody talking.
Casting Clooney instead of Ryan Gosling
For the past few years, computer coders have been developing a technology called Deepfake. Using artificial intelligence, it can show video of a famous person reciting words they've never actually said. The general public was first exposed to this when actor and director Jordan Peele made a viral video showing how he could control the words coming out the mouth of President Obama. This "Good Morning America" segment shows it in action:
The technology captured the imagination of Gidali, a visual effects artist in Hollywood. "Human faces are notoriously hard to recreate in computer graphics," he told From The Grapevine. "So it's kind of like the golden trophy that everyone is trying to accomplish without much success. Even big studios who make movies like "Star Wars" find it really hard nailing that lifelike face replacement. So when those deepfakes started popping up online, they were pretty amazing. This was a game changer."
They installed the deepfake software onto their computer and modified it slightly to fit his needs. The next step was choosing the right celebrities for the film. "We were thinking like Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman, the kind of actors that exude this charisma that you just can't replicate," Tubi explained. But they eventually cast two other high-profile actors. "Rachel McAdams is one of my favorite actresses and George Clooney is just so iconic. There's one George and there will never be another George. Looking at it now, we couldn't imagine having anybody else other than George or Rachel."
Gidali pointed out that Clooney's star value is more than just his face. "It's really the whole essence of him and his performances and his charisma. There are some actors that are less animated than George Clooney or the animation of their personalities is less pronounced and I feel like that plays well for our creep factor. The fact that it looks like George Clooney, but it doesn't move like George Clooney makes it seem even more creepy."
Added Tubi: "And that was important. We wanted people to know right away. This may look like them, but it doesn't feel like them. That was an important element. Part of our message is that we want to make people aware of this being out there. Look closer."
Once they landed on Clooney and McAdams, they got to work. Despite what your eyes see, the finished product does not use existing footage of the famous actors. Instead, the filmmakers fed the software a combination of photos and videos of Clooney and McAdams and the computer uses artificial intelligence to create an understanding of their facial features.
The computer then takes the video footage of the real actors in "Face Swap" and marries that to its newfound knowledge of the celebrities. So when actor Troy Caylak smiled in the film, the digital mask of George Clooney smiles. When actress Noelle Urbano opens her mouth, it looks like Rachel McAdams is talking.
The dark side of technology
The film was shot over two days in Los Angeles, and they finished editing it in December. Besides being available online, it was also shown at the Hammer Museum at UCLA. The couple hopes to use this five-minute short as a proof of concept to potentially make a feature-length version of the film. Gidali and Tubi look at their movie as parody, saying that they released it as a social commentary. "This is a cautionary tale," Tubi told us. "Many people didn't know that this technology even existed. We think it's important that people are aware of it. In the words of Jordan Peele, we want people to 'stay woke.'"
They're also working on a few other projects that also tap into the zeitgeist of the "Black Mirror" universe. "One of the challenges that we're seeing is that there's something about this short that feels kind of like a perfect storm," Gidali explained. "It uses new technology in a controversial way to tell a story that is controversial about the technology," adding that his future films may look at the dark side of artificial intelligence, drones and even 3D printing. "We're definitely inspired by technology in our narratives."
Gidali is also working on a horror film called "Not Dead Yet" that takes place in a retirement home, as well as hosting a podcast called "The Post Post" about Hollywood's post-production industry. As for Tubi, she's written a screenplay that they hope to turn into a dramatic feature.
In the meantime, they're enjoying watching people's reaction to "Face Swap" – and enjoying another byproduct of the film: the two of them became a couple during the making of the movie. Asked if they would try the face swapping technology on their own romantic relationship, they laugh. "I like to consider myself the kind of person that will try something at least once," Tubi said, smiling. "So I probably would try it. But by the same token, I do feel like there's something very creepy and weird about it. So, I'm not sure. It's a very solid question. Probably yes, just to say that I did. But I don't know if I would be a big fan."
And what about Gidali? "Yeah," he said. "I told Einat that I would switch her face with her."
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