Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Kenrick Vezina

A View from Kenrick Vezina

Software Reconstructs Famous Faces from Still Images, Captures Their Unique Mannerisms

A University of Washington team has developed virtual “Face/Off” software that lets them animate Barack Obama’s face with George W. Bush’s mannerisms, and other surreal tricks.

  • December 8, 2015

Today’s nightmare fodder: the disembodied faces of nine different politicians and celebrities—including Barack Obama—all in sync with the expressive quirks of former president George W. Bush. It’s as though Bush put on nine different photorealistic masks, and the effect is surreal. (The segment in question begins at 1:30 in the video.)

This video was created by a team of researchers from the University of Washington who wanted to answer the question “What makes Tom Hanks look like Tom Hanks?” To do so, they developed machine-learning algorithms that mine the Internet for images of a person and use them to create a three-dimensional reconstruction of that person’s face that captures not only features but also unique expressions and mannerisms.

They can sync one face’s “persona” to one of the re-created faces, as with the example mapping Bush’s mannerisms onto Obama’s face. But their software works in the other direction as well: to map the “performance” of one person onto another’s face while preserving the second face’s persona. As explained by coauthor and professor of computer science Steven Seitz in a press release: “How do you map one person’s performance onto someone else’s face without losing their identity? […] We’ve shown you can have George Bush’s expressions and mouth and movements, but it still looks like George Clooney.”

The team has high hopes for using the technology. What if you could build three-dimensional reconstructions of deceased loved ones to use with the incoming wave of virtual-reality technology; reconstructions that capture the gestalt of the person in question?

To me, they have a ways to go—those videos are uncanny but not quite convincing. Yet it’s an undeniably fascinating proof-of-concept. The press release makes no mention of potential applications in history or archaeology—but wouldn’t it be amazing if we could use the historical record not just to create a three-dimensional image of Abraham Lincoln but one that also captured some of his persona as well?

The team will present its latest findings at the International Conference on Computer Vision in Chile on December 16.

The latest Insider Conversation is live! Listen to the story behind the story.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.