Researchers at Disney have developed an artificial intelligence system that seemingly makes it much easier to make an actor appear younger or older in a scene. While artists can still make manual adjustments to ensure the effect looks as realistic as possible, the AI tool should be able to do most of the heavy lifting. The AI is said to take just five seconds to apply the aging effects to a single frame.
Re-aging an actor is typically an expensive and tedious process that requires performers to go through a scene frame by frame to manually change the character’s appearance. Attempts have been made in the past to automate the process with neural networks and machine learning. The Disney researchers note that while they may work well for still images, other systems “typically suffer from facial identity loss, poor resolution, and unstable results in subsequent frames of video.” They claim their solution “provides the first practical, fully automatic, production-ready method for re-aging faces in video footage.”
The team wrote in a paper that it would be impossible to train the FRAN (face re-aging network) neural network on a dataset of real people. That would require pairs of images showing a subject with the same facial expression, pose, lighting, and background at two different and known ages. Instead, the researchers created a database of several thousand randomly generated faces. They re-aged those synthetic faces using existing machine learning aging tools and then fed the results of that process into FRAN.
The neural network can analyze a headshot and predict which parts of a face would be affected by aging and then apply effects such as wrinkles or skin softening as a layer on top of the original face. As Gizmodo notes, the researchers claim this approach allows FRAN to re-age the performer with their identity and appearance intact, even when their head or face moves or the lighting changes in a shot. Also, unlike other methods, FRAN does not require an additional facial alignment step.
There are many good reasons why Disney would want to develop such a tool. For example, it could reduce the workload of visual effects artists and speed up the process. In addition to helping productions without blockbuster budgets age or age their actors, it can help keep explosive budgets in check. A significant portion of The Irishman‘s budget, which was reportedly a whopping $200 million, was used to make Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci look younger.
Disney ages artists in its own projects, most notably with Mark Hamill in Star Wars. When Harrison Ford returns as Indiana Jones next summer, he’ll also look a bit younger than you’re used to seeing him – at least for the opening sequence. Disney’s new re-aging tool should make it faster for effects artists in the future to take years off such artists’ faces.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent from our parent company. Some of our stories contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission. All prices are correct at time of publication.