The alteration of photography and film has been around almost as long as the mediums themselves. This gallery here (https://twistedsifter.com/2012/02/famously-doctored-photographs/) has “doctored” photographs dating back to the 1860s. Some of these were done merely for heroic depictions of people, but photo falsification also has a long history under totalitarian governments, where people who fell out of favor with the regime were routinely “erased” from photographs.
In the realm of film, special effects have come a long way since the days of The Wizard of Oz, when state-of-the-art special effects required lots of imagination, a huge budget, and a lot of “reality” to make them work. The tornado, for example, was a huge breakthrough in cinematography, but it was also no easy feat.
With the advent of computers and CGI, a lot of special effects can be achieved solely through ones and zeroes. Disney, for example, has halted production of hand-drawn animated movies (Pixar can be thanked for that, though already with the 1961 release of 101 Dalmations, there was technology creeping into the animation process). Even though the technology is available doesn’t mean that it’s always used wisely. Watching the movie 300 was painful because it seemed the CGI was so overdone.
However, as computer technology advances, so does the ability for computers not just to display things, but to actually analyze the information being given them and to replicate and create to a degree never seen before.
Take, for instance, the website This Person Does Not Exist. In the space of an instant a computer has come up with a photo of a person based on what it has learned analyzing millions of other photographs. Given a few more seconds, the results are often stunning.
It is truly amazing to see the number of variations of the human face that the computers can imagine, as well as the amount of detail which goes in to creating believable lighting and backgrounds.
This isn’t to say that everything is perfect, though. Especially when dealing with small details – glasses, earrings, hats – there is a penchant for the computer to make mistakes, such as in the following examples.
Now, consider this: The Samsung AI lab has come up with technology that can bring human movement to images; sometimes with as little as one photograph to work with.
From what I understand here, what is happening is that rather than the computer attempting to do a three-dimensional rendering of the subject with every frame, the computer, instead, uses a large database of available video to analyze facial features. The computer analyzes the still photo(s), finds a suitable match in the video database, and then is able to animate the still photo using the video in the database. In short, with less effort than one would think, a video can be created depicting almost anyone doing anything – or, combined with other technology, one suddenly has life-like video of people who never were.
Of course, even this technology has its limitations. Looking at their animations of Marilyn Monroe, for example, because there is a lot of film of the real Marilyn Monroe, the technology doesn’t look quite right. However, in animating the photograph of Dostoyevsky, it looks a lot more realistic. Furthermore, a lot of the movement is dependent on the actions of the source film – in animating the Mona Lisa, three different action models were used, and the animations are different enough so as to be striking.
This type of technology certainly has its place, and tremendous potential. I expect that in the next few years that pieces of this are going to start showing up in video games and film, further blurring the line between fantasy and reality.
However, this type of technology will also make it a lot easier for those intending to do harm to others to falsify “proof”. It will also make it more possible, with just a photo or two, to humiliate others on a worldwide level. While it may be possible, eventually, to prove that these types of images have been falsified, photos and film have an amazing power to trick our brains into believing that we have witnessed the truth. Each of us are going to have to learn to be more skeptical of what we are seeing in these images, but I’m sure that there will probably even be legal issues that will have to be sorted out with them. In the meantime, though, it becomes even more important to really hold on to what is true so that we can resist what is false.