People

Hulu deepfaked its new ad. It won’t be the last.

Expect less demand for expensive actors and studio time: Now producers are showing it's easy to use algorithms to make compelling clips.

Hulu ad

This ad is fake: Hulu used face-swapping algorithms to create its latest commercial.

GIF: Courtesy of Hulu

How do you safely shoot a commercial during a pandemic? Hulu simply decided to fake it.

The streaming service launched a new ad last weekend to publicize the restart of sports on its TV service. It features athletes such as Damian Lillard and Skylar Diggins-Smith unenthusiastically trying their hands at favorite quarantine hobbies; think painting self-portraits and baking sourdough bread.

But there was a problem: Lillard has been in the NBA's bubble in Orlando, and in-person shoots didn't seem like a good idea for the other star athletes, either. That's why Hulu shot the commercial with body doubles on an otherwise unoccupied set in Los Angeles, and then used deepfake algorithms to superimpose the faces of the stars into the resulting clip.

The deepfake algorithms were trained on footage of the athletes that was shot exclusively over Zoom, explained Hulu marketing VP Ryan Crosby. "Throughout each shoot, we captured several different facial angles including straight-to-camera, 45-degree angle, 90-degree side angle, looking up and looking down," he said. "Athletes were asked to say the vowels ('A' 'E' 'I' 'O' 'U') at each angle along with 'Hulu Has Live Sports Again.' We also recorded several different facial expressions that pertain to their specific movements and speaking lines within the spot."

Hulu worked with Sao Paulo, Brazil-based VFX studio Tribbo on the clip, which also used some still photographs of the athletes to beef up the training data for the AI algorithms. The whole production process took about six weeks, Crosby said.

Hulu isn't the first company to use AI video manipulation for its commercials during the pandemic. In April, State Farm ran a commercial that featured doctored footage of former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne. In it, a much younger Mayne predicted that ESPN would air "The Last Dance" in 2020. "It's going to be lit. You don't even know what that means yet," the clip has 1998-Mayne saying.

And it's not just for high-end commercials anymore. The AI video startup Synthesia, which promises customers the ability to produce videos without actors and film crews, has seen a 10x growth in demand since the beginning of the pandemic, according to co-founder and COO Steffen Tjerrild. Synthesia's AI dubbing tech takes text input and then manipulates mouth movements of archive footage to produce custom clips, like this one.

AI will eventually do to video production what apps like Instagram filters did to photography, Tjerrild predicted. The need for companies to hire actors and book studio time will in many cases go away when they can just manipulate existing footage with the help of cloud-based algorithms. The cost savings alone could be significant enough to make this stick around even after the pandemic is over. "Allowing anyone to create videos at one hundredth of the cost and 1,000x the speed is here to stay," he said. "The quality and authenticity is only going to get better and better as this space matures."

For now, it's still possible to tell the difference between AI-produced and "real" video. "We knew the biggest fans of these athletes, and sports fans in general, would recognize the imperfections," Crosby said. That's why Hulu hinted at the trickery in its own social posts and on the social feeds of participating athletes. Lillard, for instance, told his fans on Instagram: "Why did Hulu put my face on some random guy's body? Cause I'm too busy getting buckets in the bubble to shoot commercials."

Loom, Zoom, boom: How Rippling raised $250 million with a demo video and a memo

Video app Loom has become the founder’s tool of choice for pitching venture capitalists.

Rippling CEO Parker Conrad recorded a product demo on Loom and sent it to investors as a fundraising shortcut.

Photo: Rippling

Parker Conrad has come to deeply loathe PowerPoint slides. He’s raised money for three different startups, and sending investors slides of a pitch deck feels like sending them only half a presentation, he said.

“It’s like sending someone a song and some of the tracks of music are missing,” Conrad, the co-founder and CEO of HR startup Rippling, told Protocol. “Any slide that you put together is meant to be accompanied by your voice track. And so if you’re sending slides without that, it’s a terrible way to convey information.”

Keep Reading Show less
Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

The fintech developers who made mobile banking as routine as texting or online shopping aren't done. The next frontier for innovation is open banking – fintech builders are enabling consumers to be at the center of where and how their data is used to provide the services they want and need.

Most people don't even realize they're using open banking services today. If they connected their investment and banking accounts in a personal financial management solution or app, they're using open banking. Perhaps they've seen ads about how they can improve their credit score by uploading pay stubs or utility records to that same app – this is also powered by open banking.

Keep Reading Show less
Bob Schukai
Bob Schukai is Executive Vice President of Technology Development, New Digital Infrastructure & Fintech at Mastercard, where he leads the technical design, execution and support of innovative open banking and fintech solutions, as well as next generation technologies to support global payment and data capabilities. Prior to Mastercard, Schukai’s work focused on cognitive computing, financial technology, blockchain, user experience and digital identity. He is also a member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The cry-laughing emoji has absolutely earned this

Is it always sincere or even trendy? No. Does it serve its purpose? Absolutely.

The laugh-cry emoji has provided us with a codified process for indicating that we are all having a fun time here.

Photo: atomicstudio via Getty Images

In a stunning victory for the rights of people who find out about TikToks via Instagram Reels and have fond memories of Warped tour, the cry-laughing emoji has once again emerged from the fray as the most-used emoji of the year, according to data from the Unicode Consortium. The tearful grin, whose Christian name is “Face with Tears of Joy,” hasn’t relinquished its stranglehold on the top spot since 2015, when we as a nation were reeling from Zayn Malik’s One Direction exit, marveling at the Sisyphean efforts of pizza rat and becoming slowly numb to Uptown Funk. That was the same year that the teary-eyed grin was named Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year.

This is the second year that the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit organization tasked with digitizing language, has released data (the first was in 2019). Other emoji in the top 10 include the red heart, sobbing face, face with heart eyes and Old Faithful, the venerable smiley face 😊. The Consortium notes that many of the most-used emoji’s placements have stayed consistent from its 2019 data, although the pleading face emoji (🥺) did make a noticeable leap from 97 to 14.

Keep Reading Show less
Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.
Protocol | Policy

Inside the scramble to fix Biden’s plan for the future of the internet

The White House is planning to unveil its Alliance for the Future of the Internet this week following a month of pushback and a mad dash to reshape the ambitious proposal.

An initial proposal raised alarm bells with civil society groups and other U.S. government agencies alike.

Photo: Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

The White House is set to announce plans this week for its much-anticipated Alliance for the Future of the Internet, a bid to rally a coalition of democracies around a vision for an open and free web.

But behind the scenes, digital rights advocates, foreign governments and even other U.S. officials have spent the last month scrambling to push the White House to rethink its initial plans, leaving the fine points of the proposal in flux with days to go before the big reveal.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Protocol | China

How IP protection drove Chinese fans away from Hollywood

The sentencing of China’s largest volunteer subtitle group is a warning message to fans of pirated material.

Two major Chinese video platforms attended a press conference of the action against copyright violations in Beijing on Nov. 13, 2013.

Photo: WANG ZHAO / Stringer via Getty Images

For 16 years, Liang Yongping led one of the biggest Chinese fan translation groups, one that has brought countless foreign movies to the Chinese internet. His methods were legally questionable, but for a long time, the government didn’t seem to mind. When Liang was interviewed by a state-run magazine in 2011, he was called “the preacher of knowledge in the internet era.

But on Nov. 22, Liang was handed a sentence of 3.5 years in prison and a fine of over $230,000. The reason, to no one’s surprise, was copyright infringement.

Keep Reading Show less
Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
Latest Stories