Skip to main content
Move the World.
tom cruise deep fake

Lead Image © @deeptomcruise / TikTok

The ability to put one person's face on another's body in a video is nothing new — professional visual effects (VFX) artists have been swapping actors' faces onto stunt doubles' bodies for decades.

Deepfakes, however, are relatively new — in these videos, faces aren't swapped painstakingly by VFX artists, but effortlessly by AI-powered software.

The clips currently aren't nearly as convincing as professionally edited videos, but many are worried that they will be one day soon. If that proves true, anyone with a computer and the right software would be able to create deceptive deepfakes that could ruin lives or even destroy social trust.

Those fears reached a fever pitch in late February, when several near-flawless Tom Cruise deepfake videos in which he's playing golf and performing magic tricks were posted to TikTok.

But, it turns out, the viral videos weren't the work of some rando on the internet — a VFX artist that specializes in deepfake technology made them.

Making the Tom Cruise Deepfake

Chris Ume is one of about 20 deepfake artists and technicians working at Deep Voodoo, a studio founded by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to make deepfake-based entertainment, including their Donald Trump-skewering web series "Sassy Justice" (which also features a Tom Cruise puppet).

Ume shared the TikTok channel hosting the Tom Cruise deepfake videos on his LinkedIn, and Fortune confirmed that he was the creator of the clips.

Ume had previously worked with Cruise impersonator Miles Fisher on a pair of Youtube videos in which he morphed Fisher's face into that of the A-list actor.

He even released a video showing the effort that went into making the Tom Cruise deepfake, from training the AI to manually correcting the imperfections in the video it created.

(Fisher is also widely believed to be the star behind the star of Ume's TikToks, but he's yet to confirm that.)

Deepfakes Aren't the Enemy

Ume's new Tom Cruise deepfake videos were viewed more than 11 million times on TikTok before being removed from the @deeptomcruise channel without explanation on March 3. (You can still find them elsewhere on the internet, though.)

"We are simply not surrounded by deepfakes. We live in a world with a lot of shallowfakes."

Sam Gregory

If you do watch the videos, it's important to keep in mind the effort that went into creating them, according to Sam Gregory, program director at Witness, a nonprofit that uses technology to defend human rights.

"The problem with coverage of the Tom Cruise video is that it over-emphasizes how easy it is to make a deepfake like this," he told VICE News. "This is an excellent deepfake, made with effort, with an impersonator."

"We are simply not surrounded by deepfakes," he continued. "We live in a world with a lot of shallowfakes — simple, miscontextualized, or edited videos."

Even if deepfake tech ever does get to the point that anyone can make a convincing video, the technology itself isn't something to be feared, according to Ume.

"People just have to learn to be more critical — that's the point," he said in a 2019 interview with PBS affiliate WHYY. "They don't have to be scared of deepfakes, because it probably existed even before you heard the word 'deepfake.' You just didn't know it."

"At least now, you know it exists," he continued, "and you know you shouldn't believe what you see."

In that sense, Ume's Tom Cruise deepfake videos might actually benefit society. Millions of people have now seen with their own eyes just how convincing deepfakes can be — even if they aren't yet easy to make.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

AI
Just How Are Deepfakes Made, Anyway?
what is a deepfake
AI
Just How Are Deepfakes Made, Anyway?
Capable of creating incredibly realistic false data — most infamously of famous people — deepfakes are a powerful tool.

Capable of creating incredibly realistic false data — most infamously of famous people — deepfakes are a powerful tool.

Innovation
How the Technology Behind Deepfakes Can Help Us Create a Better World
How the Technology Behind Deepfakes Can Help Us Create a Better World
Innovation
How the Technology Behind Deepfakes Can Help Us Create a Better World
Deepfakes have ignited fierce media criticism and call into question the public’s ability to discern fact from...
By Jackie Snow

Deepfakes have ignited fierce media criticism and call into question the public’s ability to discern fact from fiction. But the technology behind Deepfakes, called GANs, has enormous potential to drive innovation beyond fake social media videos. Read more to find out some of the amazing things being done with this technology.

A New Reality
How to Spot a Deepfake
How to Spot a Deepfake
Watch Now
A New Reality
How to Spot a Deepfake
Is artificial intelligence the key to knowing what’s real?
Watch Now

Deepfake videos use video manipulation to show people saying and doing things they never have. These engineers are using blockchain technology to separate fact from fiction. Deepfakes, fake videos generated using artificial intelligence technology, could be the next frontier in misinformation. While news video has historically been the gold standard of veracity, an era where video can be easily created could further erode...

Public Safety
Misinformation is as Contagious as Coronavirus
coronavirus misinformation
Public Safety
Misinformation is as Contagious as Coronavirus
Fighting misinformation is now a crucial aspect of responding to disease, and health information expert Adrienne Holz Ivory explains why.

Fighting misinformation is now a crucial aspect of responding to disease, and health information expert Adrienne Holz Ivory explains why.

Digital Detectives
The Badass Army Fighting Revenge Porn
The Badass Army Fighting Revenge Porn
Watch Now
Digital Detectives
The Badass Army Fighting Revenge Porn
They’re tracking down people who post revenge porn - and getting justice.
Watch Now

Sharing nude selfies with partners is increasingly common. Too often, though, these images end up posted online without consent. BADASS Army is an army of volunteers getting these images taken down and punishing people who upload them without consent—whether they’re exes posting revenge porn, a hacker releasing them, or someone stealing them through other means. What is Revenge Porn? Revenge porn, also known as...

AI
“This DNA Is Not Real”: Why Scientists Are Deepfaking the Human Genome
artificial genomes
AI
“This DNA Is Not Real”: Why Scientists Are Deepfaking the Human Genome
Researchers taught an AI to make artificial genomes, which could advance genetic research without compromising the privacy of individuals.

Researchers taught an AI to make artificial genomes, which could advance genetic research without compromising the privacy of individuals.

Urban Living
This Urban Park Used To Be an Airport Runway
urban park
Urban Living
This Urban Park Used To Be an Airport Runway
To provide cities with more green spaces, designers turned a former airport runway into an urban park and an abandoned mall into a recreational lagoon.

To provide cities with more green spaces, designers turned a former airport runway into an urban park and an abandoned mall into a recreational lagoon.

Sustainability
The Big Screen Goes Green
The Big Screen Goes Green
Sustainability
The Big Screen Goes Green
Hollywood moves towards sustainable film production.

Hollywood moves towards sustainable film production.