How a deepfake Tom Cruise on TikTok turned into a very real AI company
Earlier this year, videos of Tom Cruise started popping up on TikTok of the actor doing some surprisingly un-Tom-Cruise-like stuff: goofing around in an upscale men's clothing store; showing off a coin trick; growling playfully during a short rendition of Dave Matthews Band's "Crash Into Me."
In one video, he bites into a lollipop and is amazed to find gum in the center. "Mmmmm," he says to the camera. "That is incredible. How come nobody ever told me there's bubblegum? Incredible!"
Despite the movie star hair, the eye-squinting and that trademark teeth-baring cackle, it wasn't really Cruise. The 10 videos, which were posted between February and June, featured an artificial intelligence-generated doppelganger meant to look and sound like him. The deepfakes — a combination of the terms "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 ersatz Cruise was so popular, racking up tens of millions of views on TikTok, that it inspired Umé to join up with others to launch a company called Metaphysic in June. It uses the same deepfake technology to make otherwise impossible ads and restore old film. Metaphysic's deepfake projects for clients have included a Gillette razor campaign that recreated a young Deion Sanders along with his 1989 draft-day look and a campaign for the Belgian Football Association that brought two deceased Belgium team managers back to life.
Much attention has been placed on the potential for using deepfakes for nefarious purposes, and for good reason. The first-known examples of deepfake videos, posted to Reddit in 2017, featured celebrities' faces swapped with those of porn stars. Since then, the technology has often been used for creating non-consenual pornography. Lawmakers have also warned that deepfakes could be used to mislead the American public.