Portrait-to-animation AI brings to life Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, and more

Marie Curie (1920). Credit: My Heritage.

Going from pictures to moving pictures was a huge leap in technology and value. We can now archive human culture in a far richer format than simple text or static photos. Now, it is even possible to fill in the blanks from the past. Using AI, researchers have transformed photos of famous people into hyper-realistic animations that shine new light upon historical figures.

Charles Darwin (1855). Credit: My Heritage.

Anyone can use the tool — fittingly named Deep Nostalgia — to animate faces in photos uploaded to the system. The new service, which was produced by genealogy site MyHeritage, uses deep learning to turn a static portrait into a short video with life-like facial expressions.

Amelia Earhart (1937). Credit: My Heritage.

Specifically, the AI uses a method known as adversarial networks (or GANs for short) in which two different AIs are pit against each other. One of the networks is responsible for producing content while the other verifies how well the content emulates references. Over billions of iterations, the AI can get very good — so good it might fool you that it is original footage.

The tool is ideal for animating old family photos and celebrity pictures. It can even work with drawings and illustrations.

In order to bring a portrait to life, the AI maps a person’s face onto footage of another. It’s essentially the same way deepfakes work to impersonate people, whether it’s Donald Trump joining Breaking Bad or Mark Zuckerberg saying things he never actually said. But since the tool doesn’t also come with fake audio, there shouldn’t be any risk of nefarious usage — yet.

Some will feel enchanted by Deep Nostalgia, while others will undoubtedly be creeped out. But regardless of how the products of this AI make you feel, I think we can all agree that the technology behind them is damn impressive.

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