Disney’s new neural network can change an actor’s age with ease

Enlarge / An example of Disney’s age-altering FRAN-AI, showing the original image on the left and re-aged rows of older (top, aged 65) and younger (bottom, aged 18) examples of the same person.

Disney researchers have created a new neural network that can change the visual age of actors on TV or film, reports Gizmodo. The technology will allow TV or film producers to make actors appear older or younger using an automated process that is less costly and time-consuming than previous methods.

When special effects staff on a video or film production need to make an actor look older or younger (a technique Disney calls “re-aging”), they typically use either a 3D scanning and 3D modeling process or a 2D frame -By-frame digital retouching of the actor’s face using Photoshop-like tools. This process can take weeks or longer depending on the length of the work.

In contrast, Disney’s new AI technique called Face Re-aging Network (FRAN) automates the process. Disney calls it “the first practical, fully automated, production-ready method for re-aging faces in video images.”

A research demonstration video for Disney’s re-aging technology.

To build FRAN, Disney researchers used StyleGAN2 to randomly generate thousands of examples of synthetically aged faces ranging in age from 18 to 85 years. Using this training data, FRAN learned general principles about how a person’s appearance changes with age. Now that the training is complete, it can apply these aging principles frame by frame to a real actor in motion.

“Our network is supervised trained on a large number of facial image pairs showing the same synthetic and photorealistic person tagged with the appropriate source and target ages,” the researchers write in a related paper. By synthetically generating the training data, they circumvented the “seemingly impossible task” of collecting images that represent “a variety of identities, ages, and ethnicities from different perspectives.”

The result is what Disney calls a “production-ready” solution – meaning it produces high-quality output that can be used in a real movie or TV show. It’s potentially the first AI solution of its kind that can dynamically change an actor’s age on a video despite variable facial expressions, lighting conditions, and viewing angles. Researchers also developed a user-friendly interface for FRAN that will allow artists to easily use the tool in a production environment.

Disney presented the research Wednesday in a paper titled “Production-Ready Face Re-Aging for Visual Effects,” and submitted it for inclusion at the 2022 ACM SIGGRAPH Asia conference in December. The paper’s authors include Gaspard Zoss, Prashanth Chandran, Eftychios Sifakis, Markus Gross, Paulo Gotardo and Derek Bradley, all affiliated with Disney Research Studios in Zurich, Switzerland.

Given Disney’s history of inserting computer-generated actors into Star Wars films and television shows, including some de-aged using CGI, we wouldn’t be surprised if technology similar to FRAN sees widespread use in future Disney productions, though this is not planned has been announced.

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