Bruce Willis advertises a Russian cellular network operator without appearing in front of the camera. The Hollywood star has licensed his likeness for deepfake videos and images. A series of at least 15 commercials is planned, which together tell a story of two agents. One is played by the Russian comedian Asamat Musaghaliev, the other by his compatriot Konstantin Solowjow. Its face cannot be seen – it is replaced by Willis’ face (so-called face-swapping).
The idea comes from the advertising agency Instinct, which is part of the BBDO group. Instinct creative director Roman Firainer believes licensed deepfakes celebrities are the future of commercials. Vasily Bolshakov, head of marketing for the client mobile operator Megafon, sees numerous advantages: Difficulties with pandemic-related travel restrictions are eliminated, and production is cheaper than putting a Hollywood star on a film set.
In addition, it is simply faster with deepfakes, said Bolshakov to the Russian medium Sostav. The generation of the computer model takes a whole month, but this work only has to be done once. After that, the individual videos could be produced quickly: only three weeks are estimated for post-production per advertising clip. Artificial intelligence (AI) makes it possible.
It’s no secret that these are deepfakes. Megafone deliberately reveals this. For the mobile operator, this even has an additional advertising effect, as the company wants to present itself as particularly innovative.
Director Ilja Naischuller, however, has to struggle with the fact that the actual actor is only allowed to move to a very limited extent. For example, raising and lowering the head is taboo, but sideways movements are possible. During the casting, the aim was to find a man with the same head shape and shoulder width. Baldness was also important. Solovyov meets these requirements. The Russian actor has outed himself as a huge fan of German-born Bruce Willis.
In August, the first advertising clip with deepfake Willis appeared. The commercial is intended to convey how Megafon customers can stay in touch with their children free of charge, even if they are “stuck” at work. 14 more episodes of the story are planned for next August. The series is called “Partner” and is advertised with its own film posters as the “first family blockbuster”.
Tens of thousands of images as a basis
Those involved hope that Russia’s consumers will always be eagerly awaiting the next commercial to see how the story continues. There are also supporting actors, in the first episode the “daughter” of the agent played by Musaghaliyev.
The Deepcake AI laboratory was responsible for the computer model on which the deepfake manipulation is based. The employees had to watch around 40 Willis films and select suitable scenes with different head positions and colors. Eventually, a neural network was unleashed on more than 34,000 Willis images.
The method is not perfect, sometimes the wrong Willis grows additional eyebrows, or a nose suddenly protrudes from the ear. Of course, these deformities do not find their way into advertising.