In order to make actors look older or younger than their age in movies, there has to be some serious post-production after shooting. To facilitate the process of achieving realistic results, researchers from Disney introduced FRAN, a new artificial intelligence tool that can convincingly age or de-age an actor in seconds.
In a scientific article Disney Research Studios explains that FRAN (“Facial Rejuvenation Network”) is a neural network that was trained using a large database containing pairs of randomly generated synthetic faces of different ages, which allows bypassing the need to find thousands of images of real people of different (documented) ages that depict the same facial expression, pose, lighting and background.
FRAN uses this information to predict which areas of a real person’s face will age and how, and then superimposes new details — adding or erasing wrinkles and chins — on the footage.
Disney Research Studios claims it’s “the first practical, fully-automatic and production-ready method for re-aging faces in video images.” Judging by sample videos provided by Disney, the technology beats Snapchat’s aging filter.
Disney noted in its research that FRAN may be unsuitable for significant alterations such as re-aging to and from very young ages and that the graying of scalp hair isn’t reflected when aging up an actor, as this wasn’t present in the dataset used to train the tool. Given manual VFX work and even practical prosthetic makeup application don’t have these restrictions, FRAN is unlikely to be replacing many industry jobs for a good while.
Disney is working on automating visual effects because it is one of the biggest companies that recreates or de-ages actors on the big screen. The characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been visually adjusted, as well as the characters of Star Wars.
It’s also not the first time Disney has trained AI to change a person’s appearance in videos, as its research unit in 2020 released a “photorealistic” deepfake tool. Industrial Light & Magic (Disney’s visual effects company) also worked on systems to reduce post-production VFX – such as the giant 20-foot-tall LED video screens for The Mandalorian.