How Those Tom Cruise Deepfakes Were (Probably) Made — And Who Made Them

Photo: JStone / Shutterstock
Tom Cruise

Mysterious deepfake videos of Tom Cruise are going viral on TikTok and other social media channels, leaving people of all generations in awe.

The now-deleted clips range from videos of the actor playing golf, laughing into the camera, and speaking in an eerily similar way to the real Tom Cruise. Unsurprisingly, many TikTok users were left confused and maybe a little disturbed.

Who made those strikingly realistic Tom Cruise deepfakes and how were they made?

It is currently believed that VFX/A.I. artist Chris Ume is responsible for creating the viral deepfake videos of Tom Cruise, as well as for posting them on TikTok under the username @deeptomcruise.

Just a few days ago, the Belgian designer quietly sharing a link to the TikTok account on his LinkedIn page, slyly captioning the post, "Never thought I'd be sharing a tiktok channel on my linkedin ;)."

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Ume works for DeepVoodoo, the animation studio established by "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

The studio is perhaps best known for "Sassy Justice," a web television series that features deepfake technology used to "insert unrelated celebrities and politicians into the fictional world of a television reporter."

Although he has not directly confirmed his role in the TikTok deepfakes of Cruise, Ume is credited as the artist behind at least one other Tom Cruise deepfake video online. In a video by Tom Cruise impersonator, Miles Fisher, Ume morphs the actor’s face onto Fisher's at the very end (around 1:55).

Looking at his LinkedIn Post, one of Ume's connections commented, "Amazing work Chris." And when another offered his compliments and asked about the resolution, Ume replied, "There's more to it then just having a big gpu. Thanks!"

For those not in the VFX know, GPUs are graphics processing units, which are used, among other purposes, to create deepfakes.

Given Ume's response and his enthusiastic shares about the news on Twitter, while nothing is officially confirmed, it’s likely Fisher is the one doing the talking in the deepfake TikToks, while Ume is the artist behind the edits.

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How were the Tom Cruise deepfakes made?

Deepfake technology allows creators to seamlessly stitch people’s faces and bodies into videos they never participated in making.

The technology used to create the Tom Cruise deepfake is probably something similar to what was done when late actor Paul Walker was edited posthumously into "Fast & Furious 7."

VFX supervisor Joe Letteri explained that process to The Hollywood Reporter.

"The general process: 1. Caleb Walker performs the scene. 2. Unused footage of Paul Walker in a similar shot, filmed at night. 3. Weta adjusts the lighting. 4. Caleb's head is replaced with Paul's in the final shot."

While we’ve been seeing similar effects produced through complex CGI for decades now, new automatic computer-graphics or machine-learning systems are making it easier for people to create these videos from their own homes.

In the specific case of the Tom Cruise deepfake videos on TikTok, it is suspected that a Tom Cruise impersonator was used to do the speaking and movements, and then deep fake technology was used to alter his face to look identical to the actor.

Ume shared a breakdown of the work he did on Fisher's video on his own YouTube channel in January 2021. Over the course of the process, he uses a sophisticated program to draw a face mask, align it to the face of the actor in the original, train the program to recognize images of Cruise, produce a raw deepfake output, produce a masked deepfake output that is then pasted onto the original, perform eye and color correction, use a highlight overlay, then a highpass filter, followed by GAN reproduction — and voilà, the final product.

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Sounds easy, no?

The Problematic Side of Deepfakes

Though most anyone who saw the viral clips could easily have been convinced the "Mission Impossible" star had simply decided to join the popular app, this footage of Cruise is, well, not footage of Cruise.

Viral deepfake videos impersonating celebrities have been popping up across the internet over the last several years as part of a strange trend that takes celebrity impersonations to a whole new level.

Disturbingly, deepfakes are often used to make explicit videos of celebrities, social media influencers, and other people with famous faces. Deepfakes can also be responsible for the spread of misinformation by people who unknowingly follow unverified accounts or who believe what they are seeing is real footage.

Deepfakes can completely upend the idea that “seeing is believing,” as now, even what you are seeing with your own eyes may be a major distortion of the truth.

Already, deepfakes are being used as a form of revenge porn and have the potential to be used for identity fraud.

Viewer beware.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.