Ancestry Company Uses Deepfake Technology to Animate Old Photos

For most of mankind’s existence, our ancestors only lived on in stories. Most people never became the subject of a painting, so their faces faded with time. That all changed with the invention of the camera. Suddenly it was possible to immortalize everyone. However, compared to modern technology, when we all walk around with camcorders in our pocket, those old photographs can still feel static and distant. But one company is trying to change that. Not only will they help you trace your family tree, they’re using deepfake technology to turn old pictures into moving videos that animate your ancestors in ways they never could have imagined.

MyHeritage, like Ancestry and 23andMe, will let you trace your lineage via your DNA. The service provides your own ethnic background from 2100+ geographic regions. It will also match you with long-lost relatives. But the site’s newest feature (which we first learned about at Mashable), its Deep Nostalgia function, might be its coolest. It animates the faces found in your old family photos.

To turn old static pictures into short videos, MyHeritage partners with D-ID, “a company specializing in video reenactment using deep learning.” First, the pictures must be upgraded to high-definition. Then deepfake technology is used to animate them with realistic human gestures. (And yes, more than one face can be animated in a single photo.) The company explains how it works:

“MyHeritage integrated this technology to animate the faces in historical photos and create high-quality, realistic video footage. The Deep Nostalgia feature uses several drivers prepared by MyHeritage. Each driver is a video consisting of a fixed sequence of movements and gestures. Deep Nostalgi can very accurately apply the drivers to a face in your still photo, creating a short video that you can share with your friends and family. The driver guides the movements in the animation so you can see your ancestors smile, blink, and turn their heads. This really brings your photos to life!”

Some users have already employed the function to animate famous historical figures. Depending on the person, the effect can be incredibly powerful.

While MyHeritage admits some people find this technology off-putting, it’s easy to see its appeal to others. Old photos, especially ones where the subject had to remain still and therefore couldn’t smile, can feel like they are missing the essence of who those individuals really were. Those images might show what they looked like. But they don’t capture the fact they once really existed, the same as any of us.

Animated image of George Washington using Deepfake Technology

National Gallery of Art/MyHeritage

Even just a brief smile or a turn of the head can change that. And a family tree whose leaves and branches—no matter how long ago they sprung to life or faded—can move with the wind is a family tree that will always feel alive.

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