Framestore was excited to partner with Channel 4 using deep fake technology for the 2020 alternative Christmas message. Produced by Framestore Pictures and directed by the BAFTA-winning William Bartlett, the goal of this year’s message was for audiences to question what they see by turning comedian and impressionist Debra Stephenson into the Queen.
Channel 4 wanted to highlight the impact deep fakes can have on an unsuspecting audience. William Bartlett explains; ‘Deep fakes are only plausible when you have a good amount of reference imagery of the person you’re trying to deep fake and a great performance to base it on. Without those you end up with something that is unconvincing
Shot in November under complete secrecy, the alternative Christmas message needed the most convincing performance of the Queen so turned to Dead Ringers and Spitting Image star Debra Stephenson. The perfect choice having already previously performed as the Queen, it’s Debra Stephenson’s performance that the audience watched on Christmas Day as the Queen; everything from her movements to the voice is retained.
The Framestore had just six weeks to feed the AI reference images of the Queen to create a convincing deep fake - replacing Debra’s head with the AI Queens. They also created the environment which placed Debra Stephenson in a digital version of Buckingham Palace as she performed with just the Queen’s desk and the film’s impressive Christmas tree.
The content of the message was always intended to be light-hearted and satirical, but the underlying goal of the broadcast was for Channel 4 to remind everyone that in a world where visuals can be doctored or entirely faked, audiences should question everything they see.
Channel 4 Director of Programmes Ian Katz said; “Deepfake technology is the frightening new frontier in the battle between misinformation and truth. This year’s Alternative Christmas Address – seemingly delivered by one of the most familiar and trusted figures in the nation – is a powerful reminder that we can no longer trust our own eyes.”
William Bartlett was the perfect choice for this project thanks to his experience with deep fake and his ability to direct performances that would achieve the right final result when the technology is deployed. As AI-driven deep fake technology has become a part of the professional VFX toolkit, William has presented at Cannes Lions on the opportunities that it presents and has used it to create deep fake videos of both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.