This Tom Cruise Magic Trick Video Shows the Chilling Power of Deepfake Tech

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Mar. 14 2021, Updated 5:48 p.m. ET

If you recently witnessed Tom Cruise doing a magic trick in a TikTok video, you weren’t looking at the movie star himself. Instead, you saw a sophisticated deepfake illusion.

In the video, a much younger version of Cruise makes a coin disappear, locks his intense gaze on the camera, and says, perhaps ironically, “It’s all a real thing.” Then he breaks out into the Mission: Impossible actor’s trademark laugh.

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But Cruise had nothing to do with the Feb. 25 upload. That clip and the other videos posted to the @deeptomcruise TikTok account are the work of Belgian VFX artist Chris Ume and Tom Cruise impersonator Miles Fisher.

The Tom Cruise deepfakes took months to produce.

In a recent interview with The Verge, Ume stressed that you can’t just press a button to create deepfakes as convincing as the Tom Cruise clips. “That’s important,” he said. “That’s a message I want to tell people.”

Even with two NVIDIA RTX 8000 GPUs, it took Ume two months to train his base AI models with the open-source DeepFaceLab algorithm. Then, it took him days to process each clip. And finally, Ume pored over each frame with video editing software, smoothing edges and covering glitches.

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“The most difficult thing is making it look alive,” Ume said. “You can see it in the eyes when it’s not right. … By combining traditional CGI and VFX with deepfakes, it makes it better. I make sure you don’t see any of the glitches.”

Ume also gave ample credit to Fisher, a film and TV actor who also played Cruise in the 2008 parody film Superhero Movie. “He’s a really talented actor,” Ume said of Fisher. “I just do the visual stuff.”

The Tom Cruise TikTok videos mark a leap forward in deepfake technology.

Source: TikTok

Hany Farid — a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies digital forensics and misinformation — told NPR’s All Things Considered that the @deeptomcruise clips show how deepfake technology is improving at a rapid pace.

“This is clearly a new category of deepfake that we have not seen before,” Farid told the radio show. “Every three to four months a video hits TikTok, YouTube, whatever, and it’s just, ‘Wow, this is much, much better than before.’”

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Source: VFXChris Ume/YouTube

Deepfake technology isn’t always harmless fun, though.

Farid also warned that deepfakes are “throwing jet fuel” on the fire of social media misinformation. As an example, he said someone could create a deepfake video of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealing a loss in profit for the company. Armed with that kind of technology, “how long does it take me to move the market to the tune of billions of dollars?” Farid said.

Additionally, a 2019 Sensity study found that more than 90 percent of all deepfake material online is nonconsensual deepfake pornography.

As for the innocuous Cruise deepfakes, though, it sounds like Ume will no longer update @deeptomcruise. “It’s fulfilled its purpose,” he told The Verge. “We had fun. I created awareness. I showed my skills. We made people smile. And that’s it. The project is done.”

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