Star Wars films have traditionally been cash cows even when they aren’t very good. So, it was a surprise when Disney’s mega-budget Solo: A Star Wars Story limped along to lose the studio millions of dollars earlier this year. Part of the problem might have been that people just aren’t able to see anyone but Harrison Ford in the iconic role of Han Solo. Ford is, of course, too old to play a youthful Solo, but there is still hope. With the power of machine learning, you can get a glimpse of a movie that never was.
The YouTube channel “derpfakes” has been experimenting with machine learning video manipulation ever since the tools became public in early 2018. Human nature being what it is, the internet first used the face-swapping technology known as “deepfakes” to create porn with celebrity faces substituted for the original performers. That got the deepfakes community banned from Reddit, but the tools aren’t going away any time soon.
Derpfakes uses the same tools from the controversial porn to make experimental face-swapped movie and TV footage. The account has posted videos from Toy Story, Star Trek, and The Room. Star Wars is also a favorite target because of the recent use of questionable CGI characters to stand-in for aged and deceased actors. The latest post tackles Solo, replacing star Alden Ehrenreich with a young Harrison Ford. The results aren’t perfect, but it’s impressive for something done with essentially no budget. Disney spent almost $300 million making the movie.
Deepfakes use a powerful machine learning algorithm powered by Nvidia’s CUDA framework and TensorFlow. The user just has to provide the program with video footage and a large number of high-resolution images of the face they want swapped into the video. In this case, the creator of the video used images of Harrison Ford from the 1970s.
The results are impressive, at least in the 90 seconds or so posted on YouTube. The last scene in the dimly lit bar looks almost real. With enough processing time, it would be possible to remake the entire film with Ford in the starring role. It probably helps that Ehrenreich effectively replicated Solo’s characteristic swagger and facial expressions — the algorithm can’t change what a performer does, just how they look. Disney would, of course, object to such a project. Considering the film’s poor performance, maybe Disney should invest in some deepfakery and re-release a Ford cut.
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