Would former president Barack Obama really call Trump a “dipshit”? (I mean, in public?) Would he close an address with “Stay woke, bitches”? Probably not — and he certainly wouldn’t say “Killmonger was right.” But in the fake Obama video from Oscar-winning director and comedian Jordan Peele, the former president says all those things. It’s not just a funny bit — though it is pretty hilarious — but a warning about how making believable-looking yet fake videos are increasingly easy to do.
The video at first looks like one of Obama’s normal addresses. (The fact that it appears to have been shot in the White House is your first clue, though we doubt Trump would let Obama back in, even to shoot a minute-long video.) But Obama says increasingly strange things, and soon the video turns split-screen, with Obama on the left, Peele on the right. Peele continues with his (superb) Obama impression, explaining that it’s all fake.
Buzzfeed published a companion article that explains how the fake Obama video was made. Jared Sosa, the editor of the video, took real footage of Obama and put Peele’s mouth over Obama’s, Clutch Cargo-style. He then replaced Obama’s jawline with a jawline that moved with Peele’s mouth. Finally, he used free software called FakeApp to render and smooth out the footage. Sosa said he used nothing but FakeApp and Adobe After Effects — standard video editing software that costs a mere $20 per month.
A second companion article offers advice on spotting fake videos. While most of the advice is handy for identifying fake news in general — check the source, see who else has reported on it — there are a couple bits of advice specifically for spotting fake videos. The article encourages you to watch the mouth in particular for any anomalies, particularly with the teeth, tongue and inside of the mouth. It also points out that you can slow down and freeze parts of the video to see if there are any glitches that get glossed over at full speed.
This technique has also been used to make fake celebrity porn — generally called “deepfakes,” a portmanteau of fake and “Deep Dream,” the Google software that has AI attempt to redraw an image from images it already knows.
This isn’t even the first fake Obama video. In 2017, a University of Washington research team released a video of him “speaking” about the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. And while that video combined Obama’s actual speeches with dialogue from an Obama impersonator (though one not as gifted as Jordan Peele), that might not even be a requirement in the future. A Canadian company has released software that can imitate people’s voices. While it’s a bit robotic still, that should improve as computers become more and more powerful.
The future of fake news could be fake videos. So as fake Obama says, “Stay woke, bitches.”