Earlier this year, videos of Tom Cruise started popping up on TikTok of the actor doing some uncharacteristic things like doing impressions of a turtle coming out of its shell, playing a short rendition of Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me” and a fascination with bubblegum lollipops to name a few.
In one video, he shows off a magic trick while laughing semi-maniacally in Tom Cruise fashion and says, “It’s all the real thing.”
Despite having the movie star looks, the eye-squinting and that trademark teeth-baring cackle, it wasn’t the real Tom Cruise. The TikTok videos featured an artificial intelligence-generated doppelganger meant to look and sound just like him. The deepfakes (“deep learning” and “fake”) were created by visual and AI effects artist Chris Umé with the help of a Cruise stand-in, actor Miles Fisher.
This imitation Cruise TikTok videos went viral and thus inspiring Umé to join up with others to launch a company called Metaphysic in June, CNN reports. It uses the same deepfake technology to make otherwise impossible ads and restore old film.
Though deepfake technology can easily be used to mislead the American public, Umé and his cofounders are convinced the technology can be fun and used to accomplish incredible feats for movies, ads, and other forms of entertainment media that were previously impossible to do. The Metaphysic founders envision using deepfakes to do everything from making older entertainers appear younger to creating video doubles of famous people that can be used to make commercials — or any type of content — without needing them to be physically on set.
But as a recent controversy over the use of an AI-generated voice-over of the late chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain in Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, uses of such controversial technology raises ethical concerns on the deceased.
“The technology is moving forward, whether anybody likes it, really,” Metaphysic cofounder Tom Graham, a tech entrepreneur who’s based in London, told CNN. He went on to say that the company’s goal 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.
For the Cruise videos that Umé made, he said he spent two and a half months just training an AI model on videos and images of the Mission: Impossible 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.
Due to how new this technology is, there aren’t clear rules about how deepfakes should be made, shared, or even how to inform viewers that they are looking at a deepfake. Metaphysic is requiring the 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.
“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.”