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MIT Technology Review

The creators of South Park have a new weekly deepfake satire show

It’s the first example of a recurring production that will rely on deepfakes as part of its core premise.

October 28, 2020
The character Fred Sassy, whose face is a deepfake of president Trump's, on the new show Sassy Justice.The character Fred Sassy, whose face is a deepfake of president Trump's, on the new show Sassy Justice.
The character Fred Sassy, whose face is a deepfake of president Trump's, on the new show Sassy Justice.Screenshot via YouTube

The fake news: A new weekly satire show from the creators of South Park is using deepfakes, or AI-synthesized media, to poke fun at some of the most important topics of our time. Called Sassy Justice, the show is hosted by the character Fred Sassy, a reporter for the local news station in Cheyenne, Wyoming, who sports a deepfaked face of president Trump, though a completely different voice, hair style, and persona.

Meta commentary: The first episode, released on YouTube on October 26, took on the topic of deepfakes themselves, with Fred Sassy warning his faithful viewers that they shouldn’t believe everything they see. The satirical twist is that all the footage shown as real is, of course, deepfaked, while all the footage labeled fake is either real or played by puppets. The episode features a wide range of highly convincing deepfakes representing people including former vice president Al Gore, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and president Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose face is deepfaked onto a child. A deepfaked president Trump also makes an appearance.

Deepfake acting: Sassy Justice most likely uses face-swapping, which has grown increasingly popular among artists and filmmakers with the release of the open-source algorithm DeepFaceLab earlier this year. The algorithm works by training on footage of a person and then overlaying a generated version of the person’s face onto a “base actor.” Because the actor’s body, voice, and performance are retained—with the original expressions translated to the deepfaked face—impersonators are usually cast to create the most convincing final product. The process isn’t always seamless, however, so post-production editing is still required to smooth things over.

Deepfake TV: In the last year, a number of other audiovisual productions have made use of professionalized deepfakes. These include a Hulu commercial deepfaking several sports stars, a voters’ rights ad deepfaking dictators Valdimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, and the documentary Welcome to Chechyna, which for the first time used deepfakes to protect the identities of its subjects. Sassy Justice is the first example of a recurring production that will rely on deepfakes as part of its core premise.